Spatial Memory for Highly Familiar Environments

Abstract

In this experiment we examined orientation dependency in human memory for a highly familiar environmental space. Twenty-seven inhabitants living for at least two years in Tübingen saw a photorealistic virtual model of the city center (Virtual Tübingen) through a head-mounted display. They were teleported to five different initial locations in Virtual Tübingen and asked to point towards well-known target locations. This procedure was repeated in twelve different body-orientations for each of the initial locations. Participants pointed more accurately when oriented northwards regardless of the initial location. We also found a small effect of local orientation. The more participants were aligned with the street leading to the target location the better was their pointing performance. Even though the strong alignment effect with a global orientation is predicted by reference direction theory, this theory does not predict that this global orientation is, first, common for almost all participants, and second, that this orientation is north. We discuss our results with respect to well-known theories of spatial memory and speculate that the bias we find for north orientation is due to participants relying on memory of a city map of Tübingen for their pointing response. Keywords: spatial memory; reference frame; environmental space; reference direction; view dependent; orientation independent; alignment; map


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