Animal Cognition

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 159–168 | Cite as

Spatial reorientation: the effects of space size on the encoding of landmark and geometry information

  • Cinzia Chiandetti
  • Lucia Regolin
  • Valeria Anna Sovrano
  • Giorgio Vallortigara
Original Article


The effects of the size of the environment on animals’ spatial reorientation was investigated. Domestic chicks were trained to find food in a corner of either a small or a large rectangular enclosure. A distinctive panel was located at each of the four corners of the enclosures. After removal of the panels, chicks tested in the small enclosure showed better retention of geometrical information than chicks tested in the large enclosure. In contrast, after changing the enclosure from a rectangular-shaped to a square-shaped one, chicks tested in the large enclosure showed better retention of landmark (panels) information than chicks tested in the small enclosure. No differences in the encoding of the overall arrangement of landmarks were apparent when chicks were tested for generalisation in an enclosure differing from that of training in size together with a transformation (affine transformation) that altered the geometric relations between the target and the shape of the environment. These findings suggest that primacy of geometric or landmark information in reorientation tasks depends on the size of the experimental space, likely reflecting a preferential use of the most reliable source of information available during visual exploration of the environment.


Spatial reorientation Geometric module Modularity Human infants Domestic chicks 



All authors contributed identically to this work. We thank Ken Cheng for suggesting us Experiment 1 and Marco Feruglio for help in testing the animals. The research was supported by grants MIUR Cofin 2004, 2004070353_002 “Intellat” and MIPAF “Benolat” to G.V. L.R. was supported by the University of Padua, “Progetto di Ricerca di Ateneo 2004/05”.


  1. Carruthers P (2002) The cognitive functions of language. Behav Brain Sci 25:657–726PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cheng K (1986) A purely geometric module in the rat’s spatial representation. Cognition 23:149–178PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cheng K, Newcombe NS (2005) Is there a geometric module for spatial orientation? Squaring theory and evidence. Psychon Bull Rev 12:1–23Google Scholar
  4. Deipolyi A, Santos L, Hauser MD (2001) The role of landmarks in cotton-top tamarin spatial foraging: evidence for geometric and non-geometric features. Anim Cogn 4:99–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Gallistel CR (1990) The organization of learning. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  6. Golob EJ, Taube JS (2002) Differences between appetitive and aversive reinforcement on reorientation in a spatial working memory task. Behav Brain Res 136:309–316PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gouteux S, Thinus-Blanc C, Vauclair J (2001) Rhesus monkeys use geometric and nongeometric information during a reorientation task. J Exp Psychol Gen 130:505–519PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hermer L, Spelke ES (1994) A geometric process for spatial reorientation in young children. Nature 370:57–59PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hermer L, Spelke ES (1996) Modularity and development: the case of spatial reorientation. Cognition 61:195–232PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hermer-Vasquez L, Moffet A, Munkholm P (2001) Language, space, and the development of cognitive flexibility in humans: the case of two spatial memory tasks. Cognition 78:263–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kelly DM, Spetch ML, Heth CD (1998) Pigeons (Columba livia) encoding of geometric and featural properties of a spatial environment. J Comp Psychol 112:259–269CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Learmonth AE, Newcombe NS, Huttenlocher J (2001) Toddlers’ use of metric information and landmarks to reorient. J Exp Child Psychol 80:225–244PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Learmonth AE, Nadel L, Newcombe NS (2002) Children’s use of landmarks: implication for modularity theory. Psychol Sci 13:337–341PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. MacWhinney B (1991) The CHILDES project: tools for analyzing talk. Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJGoogle Scholar
  15. Nadel L, Hupbach A (2006) Species comparisons in development: the case of the spatial “module”. In: Johnson M, Munakata Y (eds) Processes of change in brain and cognitive development. Attention and Performance, vol. XXI. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  16. Newcombe NS (2005) Evidence for and against a geometric module: the roles of language and action. In: Rieser J, Lockman J, Nelson C (eds) Action as an organizer of learning and development. Minnesota Symposium on child psychology. Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ, pp 221–241Google Scholar
  17. Shusterman A, Spelke ES (2005) Language and the development of spatial reasoning. In: Carruthers P, Laurence S, Stitch S (eds) The innate mind: structure and content. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 89–108Google Scholar
  18. Sovrano VA, Vallortigara G (2006) Dissecting the geometric module: a sense-linkage for metric and landmark information in animals’ spatial reorientation. Psychol Sci 17:616–621CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Sovrano VA, Bisazza A, Vallortigara G (2002) Modularity and spatial reorientation in a simple mind: encoding of geometric and nongeometric properties of a spatial environment by fish. Cognition 85:B51–B59PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Sovrano VA, Bisazza A, Vallortigara G (2003) Modularity as a fish views it: conjoining geometric and nongeometric information for spatial reorientation. J Exp Psychol: Anim Behav Proc 29:199–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Sovrano VA, Bisazza A, Vallortigara G (2005) Animals’ use of landmarks and metric information to reorient: effects of the size of the experimental space. Cognition 97:121–133PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Sovrano VA, Bisazza A, Vallortigara G (2006) How fish do geometry in large and in small spaces. Anim Cogn, DOI: 10.1007/s10071-006-0029-4Google Scholar
  23. Spelke ES (2003) What makes us smart. Core knowledge and natural language. In: Genter D, Goldin-Meadow S (eds) Language in mind. Advances in the study of language and thought. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp 277–311Google Scholar
  24. Vallortigara G (2004) Visual cognition and representation in birds and primates. In: Rogers LJ, Kaplan G (eds) Vertebrate comparative cognition: are primates superior to non-primates? Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, pp 57–94Google Scholar
  25. Vallortigara G (2006) The cognitive chicken: Visual and spatial cognition in a non-mammalian brain. In: Wasserman EA, Zentall TR (eds) Comparative cognition: experimental explorations of animal intelligence. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, pp 41–58Google Scholar
  26. Vallortigara G, Sovrano VA (2002) Conjoining information from different modules: a comparative perspective. Behav Brain Sci 25:701–702CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Vallortigara G, Zanforlin M, Pasti G (1990) Geometric modules in animal’s spatial representation: a test with chicks. J Comp Psychol 104:248–254PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Vallortigara G, Pagni P, Sovrano VA (2004) Separate geometric and non-geometric modules for spatial reorientation: evidence from a lopsided animal brain. J Cogn Neurosci 16:390–400PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Vallortigara G, Feruglio M, Sovrano VA (2005) Reorientation by geometric and landmark information in environments of different spatial size. Dev Sci 8:393–401PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Vargas JP, Lopez JC, Salas C, Thinus-Blanc C (2004) Encoding of geometric and featural spatial information by Goldfish (Carassius auratus). J Comp Psychol 118:206–216PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Wang RF, Spelke ES (2002) Human spatial representation: insights from animals. Trends Cogn Sci 6:376–382PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cinzia Chiandetti
    • 1
  • Lucia Regolin
    • 2
  • Valeria Anna Sovrano
    • 2
  • Giorgio Vallortigara
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology and B.R.A.I.N. Centre for NeuroscienceUniversity of TriesteTriesteItaly
  2. 2.Department of General PsychologyUniversity of PaduaPadovaItaly

Personalised recommendations