Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Contextual Cues and the Retrieval of Information from Cognitive Maps

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Contextual Cues and the Retrieval of Information from Cognitive Maps

Article excerpt

In three experiments, we investigated how retrieval cues affect memory for cognitive maps. Participants first rated a list of landmarks either for the importance of the activity performed or for the frequency of visitation at each landmark (Experiments 1 and 2), or on both dimensions (Experiment 3). Landmarks ranked high and low on these dimensions were selected and served as the bases for distance estimations and route descriptions. Distances estimated using importance as a criterion for selection were significantly longer than those using frequency of visitation as a criterion. Participants in the importance group also produced more route perspective expressions than survey expressions in their descriptions, whereas participants in the frequency group did not differ in the relative use of these types of perspective expressions (Experiment 1). These findings suggest that deviations in distance estimation and the use of perspectives in route description are a result of contextual manipulation and the procedures invoked during judgments.

In order to get around the environment and communicate about it, humans need to build spatial mental representations or cognitive maps of the world (see, e.g., Downs & Stea, 1977; Tolman, 1948). Cognitive maps contain three kinds of spatial information: the existence of elements (objects and places), the directional relationships among the elements, and the distance separating the elements. There is much evidence that the construction of such representations is affected both by the nature of the environment being learned and by how and why such information is acquired. However, despite much interest in effects of encoding on the spatial representations humans form about the environment, less attention had been given to the issue of whether or not context at retrieval affects how one recalls information about the spatial world. In the present article, we examine the influence of retrieval effects on cognitive maps using measures that have been shown to be affected both by the mode of acquisition of spatial knowledge (e.g., learning through maps vs. learning through navigation) and by goal at encoding. We first briefly review the evidence that our knowledge of the spatial world is affected by these variables at encoding and then address the motivation for examining retrieval context at recall. We present the results of three experiments showing that retrieval effects do indeed occur for two measures of cognitive maps: distance estimation between places and route descriptions (i.e., how one gets from one place to another).

Perspective and Acquisition of Spatial Knowledge

The way in which one learns about the environment and the goals one has when learning about it have both been shown to affect the construction of spatial representations of that environment. In relation to mode of acquisition, a distinction has been made between two types of spatial perspective associated with specific ways of representing the environment: route perspective and survey perspective. Survey perspectives are often associated with learning about an environment through maps. Map representations provide a bird's-eye (allocentric) view, reference locations to other locations, involve a stable orientation, and provide significant amounts of information at a given time (Taylor & Naylor, 2002). In contrast, route perspectives are associated with sequential procedural learning about one's environment through navigation (Alien & Kirasic, 1985) and with an egocentric, within-environment viewpoint in which orientation changes with each turn taken and information is limited to the visual field. Evidence for this distinction is widespread and now includes substantiation of the claim that certain brain structures are responsible for egocentric representations of the world whereas others are responsible for allocentric representations (see, e.g., Burgess, Maguire, & O'Keefe, 2002).

There is considerable evidence that the perspective adopted at learning affects memory for the environment at recall (Evans & Pezdek, 1980; Leiser, Tzelgov, & Henik, 1987; Perrig & Kintsch, 1985; Sholl, 1987; Taylor & Naylor, 2002; Taylor, Naylor, & Chechile, 1999; Thorndyke & Hayes-Roth, 1982). …

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