Naming spatial relations across the adult lifespan: At the crossroads of language and perception
Objective: Language abilities in adulthood remain relatively intact with increasing age, while spatial abilities decline. However, much less is known about ageing effects on spatial language (the ability to verbally describe where objects are located in relation to other objects). The primary goal of this study was to examine age-related changes in naming static and dynamic spatial relations across the adult lifespan. Moreover, we examined whether spatial naming is more closely associated with (non-spatial) verbal or (non-linguistic) visuospatial abilities. Method: Healthy adults aged between 18 and 85 years completed a newly developed Spatial Naming Test (SNT), as well as standard object and action naming tests and various visuospatial tasks. The psychometric properties of the novel SNT (inter-rater and test–retest reliability and convergent, divergent, and construct validity) were also examined. Results: The psychometric evaluation confirmed the reliability and validity of the SNT. Striking effects of ageing on naming of both static and dynamic spatial relations were found, as well as on visuospatial abilities, while object and action naming remained age invariant. Moreover, both (non-spatial) verbal and (non-linguistic) visuospatial abilities predicted static spatial naming, but only visuospatial abilities accounted for significant variance in dynamic spatial naming beyond age. Conclusions: These findings provide the first evidence that naming spatial relations declines in ageing as a function of changes in non-linguistic visuospatial abilities, indicating strong connections between linguistic and non-linguistic representations of space. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.