Project O: Reference Systems

Analog Representation of Spatial Information

Steffen Werner, Gerd Lüer, Christina Saade, Thomas Schmidt

University of Göttingen, Georg-Elias-Müller-Institute of Psychology

Duration: 1996 - 2002

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One of the main challenges of human behavior is to coordinate actions within a spatial environment. In spatial navigation, routes have to be planned, obstacles have to be avoided, and one's position continually has to be updated. When searching for an object, its location has to be remembered or strategic spatial search mechanisms have to be instantiated. To grasp an object, the relative location of the object with respect to the person's body has to be taken into account.
The research in our lab tries to answer some of the questions relating to the mental representations and processes used by humans to solve these problems. Our focus lies on the ways in which spatial knowledge is stored and retrieved by humans. We are specifically looking at three separate questions. How is spatial knowledge about the environment stored and accessed? Is spatial knowledge mentally represented differently for different actions or different scales of space? And finally, how can knowledge about human spatial cognition be applied to real-world problems, such as wayfinding, signage, geographical information systems (GIS), architectual design or landscaping, and simple virtual reality (VR) interfaces?
In a number of studies we were able to demonstrate the influence of the spatial structure of an environment on the mental accessibility of remembered spatial information. The geometric structure of a room, the street layout of a city, and dominant architectual structures in a large landscape determine environmental reference systems which are reflected in human spatial memory. These findings have direct implications for the design of spatial information systems.
In a second line of studies we investigate the influence of spatial reference systems on the accuracy of remembered locations in human memory. When trying to remember a location, humans err consistently and systematically, indicating biases and distortions in their location memory. Using exact analyses of such distortion patterns we are currently trying to model the underlying properties of human location memory.

Approaches: empirical investigation; modeling; application
Area of Research: cognitive psychology
Topics: memory; cognitive maps; navigation; actions; virtual reality; perception

Project publications

Publications of project cooperations:

H - Landmark Usage
D - Route Learning
F - Robot Navigation

mail us your comments or remarks last updated: March 2003