Reference frames in allocentric representations are invariant across static and active encoding

Edgar Chan, Oliver Baumann, Mark A Bellgrove, Jason B Mattingley

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11 Citations (Scopus)
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An influential model of spatial memory-the so-called reference systems account-proposes that relationships between objects are biased by salient axes ("frames of reference") provided by environmental cues, such as the geometry of a room. In this study, we sought to examine the extent to which a salient environmental feature influences the formation of spatial memories when learning occurs via a single, static viewpoint and via active navigation, where information has to be integrated across multiple viewpoints. In our study, participants learned the spatial layout of an object array that was arranged with respect to a prominent environmental feature within a virtual arena. Location memory was tested using judgments of relative direction. Experiment 1A employed a design similar to previous studies whereby learning of object-location information occurred from a single, static viewpoint. Consistent with previous studies, spatial judgments were significantly more accurate when made from an orientation that was aligned, as opposed to misaligned, with the salient environmental feature. In Experiment 1B, a fresh group of participants learned the same object-location information through active exploration, which required integration of spatial information over time from a ground-level perspective. As in Experiment 1A, object-location information was organized around the salient environmental cue. Taken together, the findings suggest that the learning condition (static vs. active) does not affect the reference system employed to encode object-location information. Spatial reference systems appear to be a ubiquitous property of spatial representations, and might serve to reduce the cognitive demands of spatial processing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number565
Number of pages7
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2013
Externally publishedYes


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