The ability to orient and navigate successfully in large-scale space is crucial in daily life and develops gradually during childhood. The present study aimed to investigate whether an observational training - in which children observe an actor exploring an environment - fosters the acquisition of spatial orientation skills in children 4.6 - 7.4 years of age, specifically improving their ability to efficiently explore a previously observed environment (familiar) or even a never observed one (unfamiliar). With this aim, we administered - or not - the observational training and tested children on a modified version of the Open Field with multiple rewards (OFmr) task to evaluate the children's explorative behavior and their landmark, route, and configural knowledge. We found that observational training improved both route and configural knowledge fostering the use of both egocentric and allocentric coding requested to solve the OFmr. The beneficial effect was not only limited to when children navigated in a familiar environment but, more importantly, it was present also when they had to navigate in a new environment. As a result of observational training, children moved through the environment to collect the rewards adopting a more organized and structured explorative behavior. Moreover, observational training also exerted a beneficial effect on cognitive mapping abilities, improving the children's capacity of transforming the egocentric information acquired during the navigation into an allocentric world-centered representation. Overall, these findings indicate that observational training promotes an earlier acquisition of high-level spatial abilities and brings new insights on the role of observation in promoting spatial skills in children.
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