Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Walking through Doorways Causes Forgetting: Situation Models and Experienced Space

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Walking through Doorways Causes Forgetting: Situation Models and Experienced Space

Article excerpt

We investigated the ability of people to retrieve information about objects as they moved through rooms in a virtual space. People were probed with object names that were either associated with the person (i.e., carried) or dissociated from the person (i.e., just set down). Also, people either did or did not shift spatial regions (i.e., go to a new room). Information about objects was less accessible when the objects were dissociated from the person. Furthermore, information about an object was also less available when there was a spatial shift. However, the spatial shift had a larger effect on memory for the currently associated object. These data are interpreted as being more supportive of a situation model explanation, following on work using narratives and film. Simpler memory-based accounts that do not take into account the context in which a person is embedded cannot adequately account for the results.

The aim of this research is to understand how movement through space affects one's ability to access information about objects with which one has recently interacted. This assessment was done from a situation model perspective (Johnson-Laird, 1983; van Dijk & Kintsch, 1983; Zwaan & Radvansky, 1998). Situation models are mental representations that act as mental simulations that capture the functional relations among the entities in an event. It is clear that as people operate in the world, they are trying to comprehend and understand what is going on around them. Part of this process consists in monitoring changes in space and how these changes influence the availability of other information about the situation. Thus, we should be able to extend situation model theory beyond text comprehension or the viewing of films to this set of circumstances as well. We used a strategy of taking what we know from situation model research in language and film, and applied it to a situation in which a person is interacting with a virtual world.

One classic finding regarding situation models and spatial information was reported by Glenberg, Meyer, and Lindem (1987; see also Radvansky, Copeland, Berish, & Dijkstra, 2003; Radvansky, Copeland, & Zwaan, 2003). In this study, people were presented with brief narratives to read in which an object was either associated with or dissociated from a protagonist, and then the protagonist moved to a new location. For example, a story protagonist could either put on a sweatshirt (associated) or take it off (dissociated) and then go running. After the critical object was associated or dissociated, its identity was probed for, using explicit measures such as memory probes and the ability to answer comprehension questions about the object, as well as implicit measures such as reading times for critical anaphoric sentences. Regardless of the measure used, information about the critical object was less available when it was dissociated than when it was associated.

This pattern reflects the general finding in the situation model literature that cognitive processing is disrupted by spatial shifts as people update their situation models. For example, people read more slowly when they encounter a spatial shift in a text (Zwaan, Magliano, & Graesser, 1995; Zwaan, Radvansky, Milliard, & Curiel, 1998), take longer to retrieve information about an object the farther away it is (Curiel & Radvansky, 2002; Morrow, Greenspan, & Bower, 1987; Rinck & Bower, 1995), and organize information by spatial regions (Radvansky, 1998, 1999; Radvansky, Spieler, & Zacks, 1993; Radvansky & Zacks, 1991; Zwaan, Langston, & Graesser, 1995), even when the situations are in narrative films (Magliano, Miller, & Zwaan, 2001).

Thus, when people are actively interacting in a situation, even if not reading about one or viewing one in a narrative film, it is plausible to assume that their ability to access information will be affected by any shifts that they have made. …

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