Transient and enduring spatial representations under disorientation and self-rotation

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2006 Jul;32(4):867-82. doi: 10.1037/0278-7393.32.4.867.


Current theories of environmental cognition typically differentiate between an online, transient, and dynamic system of spatial representation and an offline and enduring system of memory representation. Here the authors present additional evidence for such 2-system theories in the context of the disorientation paradigm introduced by R. F. Wang and E. S. Spelke (2000). Several experiments replicate the finding that disorientation results in a decrease in the precision of people's estimates of relative directions. In contrast to the typical interpretation of this effect as indicating the primacy of a transient spatial system, the present results are generally more consistent with an interpretation of it as indicating a switch from a relatively precise online representation to a relatively coarse enduring one. Further experiments examine the relative precision of transient and enduring representations and show that switching between them does not require disorientation, but can also be produced by self-rotations as small as 135 degrees .

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kinesthesis*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Orientation*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Problem Solving
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Social Environment*
  • Space Perception*