Is there a geometric module for spatial orientation? Squaring theory and evidence

Psychon Bull Rev. 2005 Feb;12(1):1-23. doi: 10.3758/bf03196346.


There is evidence, beginning with Cheng (1986), that mobile animals may use the geometry of surrounding areas to reorient following disorientation. Gallistel (1990) proposed that geometry is used to compute the major or minor axes of space and suggested that such information might form an encapsulated cognitive module. Research reviewed here, conducted on a wide variety of species since the initial discovery of the use of geometry and the formulation of the modularity claim, has supported some aspects of the approach, while casting doubt on others. Three possible processing models are presented that vary in the way in which (and the extent to which) they instantiate the modularity claim. The extant data do not permit us to discriminate among them. We propose a modified concept of modularity for which an empirical program of research is more tractable.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cues
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Fishes
  • Haplorhini
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Orientation*
  • Problem Solving*
  • Psychophysics
  • Rats
  • Signal Detection, Psychological
  • Social Environment
  • Space Perception*
  • Species Specificity
  • Visual Perception