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[ Navigation Lab Research Projects ]
Anytime we move through the environment we are drawing on our spatial memories and/or creating new spatial memories. Even a seemingly straightforward
spatial behavior like planning a detour to avoid traffic congestion is a rather complex spatial task. It requires an accurate spatial memory of the
surrounding neighborhood and also requires the ability to draw on that memory in order to locate goals and plan routes.
Our research indicates that spatial memories are typically organized with respect to reference frames, which provide organizational structures
for remembering locations. One effect of reference frames is that inter-object relationships aligned with the reference frame are more easily
retrieved than misaligned inter-object relationships. For example, the rectangular walls of a room provide salient axes that influence the structure
of memories for objects within the room. As a result, it is easier to imagine perspectives parallel to room axes. Here are just a few of the spatial
memory research questions we are currently pursuing:
The paper listed below illustrates some of the basic tools and techniques we use to answer these questions. Many other examples can be found by
following the "Publications" link on the left.
- What are the cues that influence the organization of spatial memories?
- What roles do reference frames play during the development of spatial memories?
- Are locations learned through different sensory modalities incorporated into a common reference frame?
- How does spatial memory differ from other types of memory?
Kelly, J.W. & McNamara, T.P. (2008). Spatial memories of virtual environments: How egocentric experience,
intrinsic structure, and extrinsic structure interact. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 15(2), 322-327.
Navigation and spatial orientation:
Accurate spatial memories are just one component of successful navigation. We also need to know where we are within the remembered space,
and which direction to move in order to achieve our navigational goal.
Our research on spatial orientation focuses on the cues used to stay oriented during navigation and to reorient after becoming lost. Some
cues are provided by the environment, like the shape of the room or the direction of a landmark. Other cues are internal, or body-based, like
our vestibular system. Here are just a few related research questions we are currently pursuing:
The papers listed below illustrate a couple of our approaches to studying navigation and spatial orientation. Other examples can be found by
following the "Publications" link.
- How do we use body-based cues (like our vestibular system) to keep track of our movements?
- What roles do reference frames play during movement through the environment?
- Why do some people have a great "sense of direction," whereas others become lost easily?
Kelly, J.W., McNamara, T.P., Bodenheimer, B., Carr, T.H. & Rieser, J.J. (2008). The shape of human navigation:
How environmental geometry is used in the maintenance of spatial orientation. Cognition, 109, 281-286.
Kelly, J.W., McNamara, T.P., Bodenheimer, B., Carr, T.H. & Rieser, J.J. (2009). Individual
differences in using geometric and featural cues to maintain spatial orientation: Cue quantity and cue ambiguity are more important than
cue type. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 16(1), 176-181.