Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

First-Perspective Spatial Alignment Effects from Real-World Exploration

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

First-Perspective Spatial Alignment Effects from Real-World Exploration

Article excerpt

When spatial knowledge is acquired from secondary-learning media, such as text, people sometimes remember a route in alignment with the first perspective or first direction of travel. However, this first-perspective alignment (FPA) effect has been found only under special circumstances from primary real-world exploration. In Experiment 1, recall of an enclosed small-scale, U-shaped route was compared following learning from a verbal description, a video recording, or real-world exploration; an FPA effect was found in all cases. In Experiments 2 and 3, exploration of physically larger real routes led to statistically significant evidence of an FPA effect when the route was enclosed, but not when cues external to the route were available. The data are discussed in relation to current theories of spatial reference frames.

A key concept in the understanding of human spatial learning and representation is the reference frame that is used to encode an environment. The spatial reference system processes the interrelationships among objects, actors, and events and includes coordinate axes and environmentally determined planes. Spatial reference frames can usefully be divided into three broad categories: egocentric, intrinsic, and allocentric. Egocentric reference frames represent locations with respect to the immediate perspective of the explorer, including retinal coordinates (Sholl & Nolin, 1997) and body-centered axes (Bryant & Tversky, 1999; Franklin & Tversky, 1990). Intrinsic encoding is similar but is centered on the location and orientation of another person, animal, object, or group of objects. Allocentric reference frames are defined by global features of the environment that are external to the explorer (e.g., Easton & Sholl, 1995; Mou, McNamara, Valiquette, & Rump, 2004; Sholl & Nolin, 1997).

Spatial alignment effects reflect important properties of spatial reference systems. Alignment effects are revealed when measures of spatial learning show more efficient processing from one or more recalled orientations than from others; when these effects occur, memory is said to be orientation dependent or orientation specific. An everyday example of an alignment effect is that a map that is studied in an orientation corresponding with the orientation of the environment that it represents is relatively easy to interpret (Levine, 1982) but increased difficulty is experienced as the orientation of the map rotates and becomes misaligned with the environment. A special case of misalignment is centra-alignment, in which the map is rotated by 180° with respect to the environment that it represents (e.g., Levine, Jankovic, & Palij, 1982; Rossano & Warren, 1989).

In the laboratory, alignment effects are commonly revealed in a recall task after people have studied an environment from one or more set perspectives. Typically, participants are asked to make judgments of relative direction (JRDs) of the form, "Imagine that you are at X, facing toward Y; indicate the direction toward Z." The experimenter usually records both angular errors in the estimates and latencies to make these judgments (e.g., Levine et al., 1982; Levine, Marchon, & Hanley, 1984; Palij, Levine, & Kahan, 1984). Greater error suggests a less accurate internal spatial representation, and longer latencies suggest greater difficulty in adopting a particular perspective or otherwise using the spatial representation. Both measures are advisable, since it is possible to increase accuracy at a cost in judgment latencies (see Waller, Montello, Richardson, & Hegarty, 2002).

A common example of an alignment effect is that, after an environment has been studied from a single perspective, recall is usually most efficient in imagined alignment with the studied perspective (e.g., Evans & Pezdek, 1980; Levine et al., 1982; Pressen, DeLange, & Hazelrigg, 1989; Pressen & Montello, 1994; Roskos-Ewoldsen, McNamara, Shelton, & Carr, 1998; Shelton & McNamara, 2001 a; Thorndyke & Hayes-Roth, 1982). …

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