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Spatial memory enhances the precision of angular self-motion updating

Abstract

Humans are typically able to keep track of brief changes in their head and body orientation, even when visual and auditory cues are temporarily unavailable. Determining the magnitude of one’s displacement from a known location is one form of self-motion updating. Most research on self-motion updating during body rotations has focused on the role of a restricted set of sensory signals (primarily vestibular) available during self-motion. However, humans can and do internally represent spatial aspects of the environment, and little is known about how remembered spatial frameworks may impact angular self-motion updating. Here, we describe an experiment addressing this issue. Participants estimated the magnitude of passive, non-visual body rotations (40°–130°), using non-visual manual pointing. Prior to each rotation, participants were either allowed full vision of the testing environment, or remained blindfolded. Within-subject response precision was dramatically enhanced when the body rotations were preceded by a visual preview of the surrounding environment; constant (signed) and absolute (unsigned) error were much less affected. These results are informative for future perceptual, cognitive, and neuropsychological studies, and demonstrate the powerful role of stored spatial representations for improving the precision of angular self-motion updating.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    By “sensory processing”, we mean processing that is largely driven by on-going receptor activity; by “cognitive processing”, we mean processing that is largely driven by stored information (e.g., working memory or longer-term representations). In this usage, when vision of the environment is suddenly occluded, sensory processing of the visual input stops, but other types of spatial representations may continue to exist. The fidelity of these representations is thought to depend upon a number of factors, such as the time elapsed since the last view of the environment (Allen and Haun 2004). These representations may be based largely on recent visual inputs, but they are no longer “sensory”, according to our usage of the term.

  2. 2.

    Upon completion of the study, the mean variable, constant, and absolute errors for two of the three left-handed individuals fell within −1.35 and 1.09 standard deviation units of the mean errors of the right-handed participants. For the third individual, errors fell between −1.90 and 2.46 SD units of the mean errors of the right-handed participants in the Pointer Calibration trials, and between 0.61 and 1.09 SD units for the Angular Self-Motion Updating trials. Pointing with the non-preferred hand may have influenced this participant’s pointing calibration, but other factors unrelated to handedness could also be responsible. Given the normal performance of the other two left-handed individuals, the effect of pointing with the non-preferred hand appears to be small. We therefore included the data of all three of these participants in subsequent analyses.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported in part by NIH Grant RO1 NS052137 to JP. The authors thank Margaret Cerullo, Peter Foster, Thomas Genarro, Thomas Romano, and Petra Zdenkova for their help in conducting this experiment and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Joeanna C. Arthur.

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Arthur, J.C., Philbeck, J.W. & Chichka, D. Spatial memory enhances the precision of angular self-motion updating. Exp Brain Res 183, 557–568 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-007-1075-0

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Keywords

  • Manual pointing
  • Spatial cognition
  • Perception/action
  • Path integration