Project K: Actions

Spatial representations and actions

Silvia Mecklenbräuker, Werner Wippich, Monika Wagener-Wender, Jörg Saathoff

University of Trier, Department of Psychology

Duration: 1996 - 2000

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An important theme in spatial cognition research concerns the influence of nonspatial (e.g., semantic) information on spatial representations. Our project investigates interactions between spatial and action information. We conducted several experiments with different paradigms. In one paradigm, subjects in the experimental conditions first acquired spatial knowledge (route or survey) and then had to associate actions with the spatial information (different places in a fictitious city). In different experimental conditions (different experiments) actions had to be performed, to be imagined, or to be planned for the future. For all these experimental conditions we were able to demonstrate that spatial information can be associated with actions. Locations proved to be effective cues for recalling actions, but we have not found any evidence that spatial representations can be altered by symbolically performing or imagining simple actions. Such a result would indicate an integration of spatial and nonspatial information.

In other experiments we examined the effects of having participants carry out a sequence of actions in an environment (e.g., preparing tea in the
kitchen of an apartment) on the construction of the spatial representation of this environment. The general hypothesis of action-based influences on mental spatial representations was not corroborated by convincing data.

We also used a priming procedure to examine interactions between spatial and action information. With this procedure, McNamara, Halpin and Hardy (1992) got results indicating that spatial and non-spatial (semantic) information were encoded in a common memory representation. The results of two experiments suggest that action and spatial information were integrated into a common representation. However, we could not observe any difference between symbolically performing and only reading the actions. Further experiments with a priming task are planned.

Approach: empirical investigation
Area of Research: cognitive psychology
Topics: cognitive maps; navigation; actions / interaction with the environment

Project publications

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