When remembering the past, we typically recall 'events' that are bounded in time and space. However, as we navigate our environment our senses receive a continuous stream of information. How do we create discrete long-term episodic memories from continuous input? Although previous research has provided evidence for a role of spatial boundaries in the online segmentation of our sensory experience within working memory, it is not known how this segmentation contributes to subsequent long-term episodic memory. Here we show that the presence of a spatial boundary at encoding (a doorway between two rooms) impairs participants' later ability to remember the order that objects were presented in. A sequence of two objects presented in the same room in a virtual reality environment is more accurately remembered than a sequence of two objects presented in adjoining rooms. The results are captured by a simple model in which items are associated to a context representation that changes gradually over time, and changes more rapidly when crossing a spatial boundary. We therefore provide the first evidence that the structure of long-term episodic memory is shaped by the presence of a spatial boundary and provide constraints on the nature of the interaction between working memory and long-term memory.
Keywords: Computational modelling; Episodic memory; Event segmentation; Spatial memory; Virtual reality.
Copyright © 2016 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.