Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Incidental Encoding of Enclosure Geometry Does Not Require Visual Input: Evidence from Blindfolded Adults

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Incidental Encoding of Enclosure Geometry Does Not Require Visual Input: Evidence from Blindfolded Adults

Article excerpt

Published online: 15 April 2014

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Although spatial orientation with respect to the geometric properties of an environment appears to be an ability shared across various species, debate remains concerning potential similarities and differences with respect to the underlying mechanism(s). One prominent theoretical account of orientation with respect to the environment suggests that participants match visual memories to their current visual perception and navigate to reduce the discrepancy between the two. We tested whether visual input was necessary to incidentally encode the geometric properties of an environment, by training disoriented and blindfolded adult participants to search by touch for a target object hidden in one of four locations, marked by distinctive textural cues, located in the corners of a rectangular enclosure. Following training, we removed the distinctive textural cues and probed the extent to which the participants had learned the geometry of the enclosure. Even in the absence of vision and unique textural cues, search behavior was consistent with evidence for the encoding of enclosure geometry. A follow-up experiment in which participants were trained in a rectangular enclosure but were tested in a square enclosure provided converging evidence that search behavior was influenced by the geometric properties of the enclosure. Collectively, these results suggest that even in the absence of vision, participants incidentally encoded the geometric properties of the enclosure, indicating that visual input is not required to encode the geometric properties of an environment.

Keywords Spatial . Orientation . Enclosure . Geometry . Touch . Haptic

Determination of current position with respect to the environment is critical for navigation (Gallistel, 1990). One way that researchers have investigated the ability to determine one's current position with respect to the environment has involved placing disoriented participants into a rectangular enclosure (see Cheng, Huttenlocher, & Newcombe, 2013; Cheng & Newcombe, 2005). When trained to approach a unique visual cue located in one corner, participants are equally likely to search at above-chance levels in this trained corner and in its 180° rotational equivalent upon subsequent removal of the visual cue (Cheng et al., 2013; Cheng & Newcombe, 2005). This "rotational error" phenomenon has been interpreted as evidence for incidental encoding of the geometric properties of an enclosure (Cheng, 1986).

Despite cross-species evidence for the rotational-error phenomenon, debate remains concerning the underlying mechanism( s) (Cheng et al., 2013; Cheng & Newcombe, 2005). View-based matching theories have emerged to suggest that orientation (and navigation) is accomplished by storing a visual memory of the target location and maneuvering to reduce the discrepancy between this visual memory and the current visual perception (Cheng, 2012; Pecchia, Gagliardo, & Vallortigara, 2011; Pecchia, & Vallortigara, 2010; Stürzl, Cheung, Cheng, & Zeil, 2008). View-based matching theories have gained recent prominence because of their capability to explain the relatively complex spatial behavior of ants via relatively simply computational processes (for reviews, see Cheng, 2008, 2012; Pecchia & Vallortigara, 2010), and this empirical support, coupled with the theory's theoretical appeal, has raised questions regarding the extent to which viewbased matching theories can explain the spatial behavior of species other than insects.

Although recent evidence suggests that view-based matching theories may be able to explain the spatial behavior of pigeons (e.g., Pecchia et al., 2011; Pecchia & Vallortigara, 2012), such theories appear insufficient to account for human spatial orientation (e.g., Bodily, Eastman, & Sturz, 2011; Lee & Spelke, 2011; Sturz, Gurley, & Bodily, 2011). To date, however, studies providing evidence against view-based matching theories of human spatial orientation appear susceptible to interpretations based on matching visual memories to current visual perception. …

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