The role of spatial memory and frames of reference in the precision of angular path integration



Publication Details

Arthur, J. C., Philbeck, J. W., Kleene, N. J. & Chichka, D. (2012). The role of spatial memory and frames of reference in the precision of angular path integration. Acta Psychologica, 141 (1), 112-121.


Angular path integration refers to the ability to maintain an estimate of self-location after a rotational displacement by integrating internally-generated (idiothetic) self-motion signals over time. Previous work has found that non-sensory inputs, namely spatial memory, can play a powerful role in angular path integration (Arthur et al., 2007, 2009). Here we investigated the conditions under which spatial memory facilitates angular path integration. We hypothesized that the benefit of spatial memory is particularly likely in spatial updating tasks in which one's self-location estimate is referenced to external space. To test this idea, we administered passive, non-visual body rotations (ranging 40°–140°) about the yaw axis and asked participants to use verbal reports or open-loop manual pointing to indicate the magnitude of the rotation. Prior to some trials, previews of the surrounding environment were given. We found that when participants adopted an egocentric frame of reference, the previously-observed benefit of previews on within-subject response precision was not manifested, regardless of whether remembered spatial frameworks were derived from vision or spatial language. We conclude that the powerful effect of spatial memory is dependent on one's frame of reference during self-motion updating.

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