Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Egocentric and Nonegocentric Coding in Memory for Spatial Layout: Evidence from Scene Recognition

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Egocentric and Nonegocentric Coding in Memory for Spatial Layout: Evidence from Scene Recognition

Article excerpt

Much contemporary research has suggested that memories for spatial layout are stored with a preferred orientation. The present research examined whether spatial memories are also stored with a preferred viewpoint position. Participants viewed images of an arrangement of objects taken from a single viewpoint and subsequently were tested on their ability to recognize the arrangement from novel viewpoints that had been translated in either the lateral or the depth dimension. Lateral and forward displacements of the viewpoint resulted in increasing response latencies and errors. Backward displacement showed no such effect, nor did lateral translation that resulted in a centered "canonical" view of the arrangement. These results further constrain the specificity of spatial memory, while also providing some evidence that nonegocentric spatial information is coded in memory.

A persistent issue in the study of spatial cognition has concerned the degree to which mental representations of space are specific. On one hand, the perceptual bases for spatial memories are extremely specific: At any given time, the spatial information available from the senses signifies only a particular egocentric experience. On the other hand, humans (and many other mobile organisms) can engage in flexible, unpracticed spatial behavior, such as shortcutting, that appears to be driven by relatively abstract representations of space. To enable these more flexible behaviors, one's specific egocentric experiences must, at some point, be transformed into a more abstract spatial representation. Yet it is an open question whether these transformations occur before or after spatial memories are stored. In the present article, I provide evidence for specificity in spatial memory, but also evidence for psychological mechanisms that work before storage to transform one's specific experience into a more abstract representation of space.

A great deal of evidence in the past two decades has suggested that memories for space are often, perhaps typically, quite specific. Nearly all of this work has examined orientation specificity-the property by which spatial representations are coded in a specific, preferred orientation. Evidence for orientation-specific representations has often been used to assess the degree to which spatial memory is based on egocentric experience and coded by means of egocentric reference systems (Shelton & McNamara, 2001). Perhaps more than any other aspect of spatial memory, orientation specificity has been the major characteristic on which current theoretical accounts of spatial representation rely (McNamara, 2003; Mou, McNamara, Valiquette, & Rump, 2004).

Diwadkar and McNamara (1997, Experiment 1) conducted an illustrative experiment that demonstrated the orientation specificity of spatial memory. In this experiment, participants studied an array of objects from a single point of view. They were then asked to recognize photographs of the array that had been taken from a number of different positions on the circumference of an imaginary circle around the array. The central finding was that people required progressively more time to recognize the array as it was depicted from orientations that were progressively more disparate from the orientation of the trained view. This is the pattern of results that would be expected if the orientation of the view shown at training was preferred in memory and if recognition of other views required mental transformations that matched novel views to the trained view. Very similar conclusions have been reached in other studies in which people have been required either to recognize (Christou & Bulthoff, 1999; Chua & Chun, 2003; Nakatani, Pollatsek, & Johnson, 2002; Shelton & McNamara, 2004b) or to recall (Shelton & McNamara, 1997,2001 ; Sholl & Nolin, 1997) information about spatial layout.

In all of the aforementioned research, when participants were asked to recognize, recall, or imagine a previously viewed layout from a novel orientation, they were also required to recognize, recall, or imagine the layout from a novel position. …

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