Module code: PSY3115

Module Overview

Please note: This module is part of the Developmental/Cognitive Psychology streams of Level 6 optional modules and may not be running every year. In some years an alternative optional module within the Developmental/Cognitive Psychology streams will be offered instead.

Spatial thinking is a vital component of cognition that is fundamental to everyday living (e.g., filling a suitcase, navigating to university; parking a car). Despite this, certain components of spatial thinking are relatively under-studied. This module explores the development of spatial skills from both theoretical and practical perspectives. You will learn the fundamentals of designing cognitive tasks, particularly spatial tasks. You will also learn about the developmental progression of spatial abilities from infancy through childhood, and differences in spatial cognition between typically and atypically developing populations. Spatial thinking is also one aspect of cognition that is particularly malleable through training or intervention. Thus, it provides an excellent case study for exploring cognitive training paradigms and understanding the causal relations between constructs. You will gain insight into the practical and theoretical considerations in cognitive training, with examples focussing on the spatial domain. The module consists of lectures, oral presentations, exercises and group discussions.

Module provider


Module Leader

GILLIGAN-LEE Katie (Psychology)

Number of Credits: 15

ECTS Credits: 7.5

Framework: FHEQ Level 6

JACs code: C800

Module cap (Maximum number of students): N/A

Module Availability

Semester 1

Prerequisites / Co-requisites

BSc Psychology Levels 4 and 5 (or equivalent). This module has a capped number and may not be available to ERASMUS and other international exchange students. Please check with the departmental exchange coordinator.

Module content

Indicative content includes:

  • Theoretical accounts of spatial cognition

  • Spatial cognition in everyday, educational and occupational contexts including the importance of spatial cognition for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) outcomes

  • Fundamentals of cognitive task design with particular reference to spatial tasks

  • Early development of visual and spatial development (infancy and preschool years)

  • Development of the spatial ability profile in middle childhood

  • Malleability of spatial cognition and cognitive training

  • The development of large scale spatial ability and navigation skills

  • Atypical visual and spatial development

Assessment pattern

Assessment type Unit of assessment Weighting
Oral exam or presentation Spatial task design and group presentation 30
Examination Examination (90 minutes) 70

Alternative Assessment

Presentations may be presented individually (30%). Students who take temporary suspension partway through this module may not be able to complete the remaining classes for this module on their return if it is not running in the following academic year. Such students will have the choice to take a replacement module, or, if they have already completed an assessment for the original module, to attend classes from a new optional module within the same stream (area of psychology) and complete an alternative assessment based on this content that meets the learning outcomes of the original module. The specific alternative assessment will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Assessment Strategy

The assessment strategy is designed to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate:

  • An understanding of spatial models and the development of spatial cognition through infancy and childhood (summative assessment).

  • Knowledge of best practice in cognitive training studies and cognitive task design, with particular reference to spatial training (summative assessment).

  • Insights into the causes and presentation of spatial deficits in atypical populations (summative assessment).

  • A thorough grounding in applying theory on the theory and development of spatial cognition, to designing a cognitive task (formative assessment).

  • An understanding of best practices for designing cognitive tasks, and critical evaluation of cognitive tasks (formative assessment).

  • An ability to work collegiately as part of a team and to display effective communication skills

Thus, the summative assessment for this module consists of:

A 90 minute examination in the formal exam period. Students must answer two of six possible questions (70%) (Learning outcomes 1-6)

Oral presentation and discussion of a cognitive (spatial) task designed by the student (in groups of about three). This will take place in the latter part of the semester (30%). (Learning outcomes 3, 7 and 8)


The session before the presentations will be a preparation session. During this session, students will be given the opportunity to meet individually with the lecturer to receive feedback on an outline of their spatial task (5 mins). During this session, formative feedback on an outline of the task will also be provided from other students, during in class discussions (oral).

For the final presentations, feedback will be provided orally during class discussion. Written feedback will be provided after class discussion.

Module aims

  • This module aims to: [teaching perspective]
    Develop an understanding of the types of spatial thinking, development of spatial thinking, design of spatial tasks suitable for research, and the extent to which it is possible to train spatial thinking.
  • 1. Provide an understanding of the theoretical frameworks used to describe spatial cognition
  • 2. Provide an understanding of the typical developmental trajectories of spatial cognition from infancy through childhood, and of the developmental trajectories of spatial thinking in atypical populations
  • 3. Provide critical perspectives on the design of cognitive tasks (with examples from the spatial domain) from both theoretical and practical perspectives
  • 4. Provide a concept of cognitive training and how training studies inform an understanding of causal relationships

Learning outcomes

Attributes Developed
001 Critically compare and contrast theoretical models of spatial cognition CK
002 Demonstrate an understanding of neoconstructivism and how this applies to the development of spatial cognition through infancy and childhood K
003 Critically compare spatial tasks based on key theoretical and practical features (e.g., reliability, validity and equivalence, outcome variables, cut-offs, practice trials, piloting, instructions, counter-balancing, confounding effects) C
004 Discuss theoretical and practical considerations in designing cognitive tasks and training paradigms K
005 Evaluate best practice in cognitive training studies with particular reference to spatial training. This should include critical evaluation of: control measures; double-blinding; study design (RCT’s vs waiting control or business as usual); motivational factors and study aims (feasibility, mechanistic, efficacy, and effectiveness studies) C
006 Demonstrate an understanding of the causes and presentation of spatial deficits in atypical populations. K
007 Design a cognitive task in the spatial domain and critically reflect on its strengths and limitations PT
008 Synthesise and communicate a proposal for a cognitive task PT

Attributes Developed

C - Cognitive/analytical

K - Subject knowledge

T - Transferable skills

P - Professional/Practical skills

Overall student workload

Independent Study Hours: 128

Seminar Hours: 20

Practical/Performance Hours: 2

Methods of Teaching / Learning

The learning and teaching strategy is designed to: Develop a high subject-level understanding of spatial models, the development of spatial thinking, and spatial thinking in atypical groups; Develop critical insights into the design of cognitive tasks and cognitive training; Enhance creativity in cognitive task design; Develop skills in research design and presentation of scientific proposals.

The learning and teaching methods include: 22 contact hours and 128 hours of independent study (reading and developing assignments).

The contact hours will be comprised of 11 two-hour sessions. The majority of the sessions (9 sessions) will include a one hour oral presentation followed by group activities and class discussion (e.g., discussion around case-studies; critically reviewing spatial tasks; reading and critically analysing journal articles). Two sessions will be dedicated to presentation preparation and oral presentations respectively.

Indicated Lecture Hours (which may also include seminars, tutorials, workshops and other contact time) are approximate and may include in-class tests where one or more of these are an assessment on the module. In-class tests are scheduled/organised separately to taught content and will be published on to student personal timetables, where they apply to taken modules, as soon as they are finalised by central administration. This will usually be after the initial publication of the teaching timetable for the relevant semester.

Reading list
Upon accessing the reading list, please search for the module using the module code: PSY3115

Other information


Please note that the information detailed within this record is accurate at the time of publishing and may be subject to change. This record contains information for the most up to date version of the programme / module for the 2020/1 academic year.