The role of spatial boundaries in shaping long-term event representations

Cognition. 2016 Sep;154:151-164. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2016.05.013. Epub 2016 Jun 10.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Memory, Long-Term*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Space Perception*
  • Time Perception
  • Young Adult