Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Object Location Memory: The Interplay of Multiple Representations

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Object Location Memory: The Interplay of Multiple Representations

Article excerpt

This article reports three experiments in which the representational nature of human object location memory was studied. The results show that multiple frames of reference can be used to encode the spatial relationships among objects. Depending on their dominancy, availability, and validity, these multiple representations interact to determine memory performance. Specifically, representations that are automatically encoded and extensively practiced are more dominant, and their availability improves performance when they are valid. On the other hand, when the dominant representations are available but invalid, people may have to resort to the less dominant representations. As a result, the availability of these dominant but invalid representations can actually hurt performance, due to interference. If these interfering representations are eliminated, the performance is again improved. The implications of these findings for general human spatial cognition are discussed.

How object locations are represented in memory is an essential issue in the study of human spatial cognition. Although it has been generally agreed that different frames of reference can be used to represent object locations, one central debate focuses on which frame of reference people actually use in various spatial tasks (for some recent reviews, see Burgess, Jeffery, & O'Keefe, 1999a; Lansdale, 1998; Newcombe, 2002; Newcombe & Huttenlocher, 2000; Tversky, 2000; R. F. Wang & Spelke, 2002).

Although different taxonomies exist (e.g., Brewer & Pears, 1993; Garnham, 1989; Klatzky, 1998; Levinson, 1996; Logan & Sadler, 1996; Palmer, 2003; Talmy, 1983), one common approach distinguishes between egocentric and allocentric spatial representations. Following the seminal work of Tolman (1948) and O'Keefe and Nadel ( 1978), some researchers believe that people represent spatial locations in terms of allocentric-based cognitive maps (see, e.g., Gallistel, 1990; King, Burgess, Hartley, VarghaKhadem, & O'Keefe, 2002; O'Keefe, 1993, 1996). However, some other researchers have argued that people primarily maintain egocentric-based representations. For example, Diwadkar and McNamara ( 1997) found that when participants studied a scene from one viewpoint and did a recognition test from a second viewpoint, the reaction time (RT) varied linearly with the angular difference between the views. Similar results along this line have been reported (e.g., Easton & Shell, 1995; Franklin, Tversky, & Coon, 1992; Mou & McNamara, 2002; Shelton & McNamara, 1997; Shell & Bartels, 2002; Sholl & Nolin, 1997; Tversky, 1996; Valiquette, McNamara, & Smith, 2003; Waller. Montellob, Richardson, & Hegartya, 2002; R. F. Wang & Simons, 1999; R. F. Wang & Spelke, 2000).

Although the debate continues (for recent reviews, see Driver & Pouget, 2000; McNamara, 2003; R. F. Wang & Spelke, 2002), an integrated view is to assume that people simultaneously maintain multiple different representations in spatial memory. One can, for example, encode the location of a specific coffee cup in a number of different ways. Egocentrically, one may say that "it is in front of me." Allocentrically, one can say that "it is in my office," ''it is on the desk in my office," or "it is next to my computer on the desk in my office." Depending on the context and various constraints, people may choose to use different representations for different tasks.

Although the claim that people may simultaneously maintain multiple representations has received an increasing amount of support (e.g., Burgess et al., 1999a; Colby & Goldberg, 1999; Halligan, Fink, Marshall, & Vallar, 2003; McNamara, 2003; Sun, Wang, & Johnson, 2004; H. Wang, Johnson, & Zhang, 2001), how different representations work together to give rise to spatial performance remains unclear. This issue is important in the sense that although mathematically equivalent, different representations with different frames of reference possess different properties and readily support different actions (Klatzky, 1998). …

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