Does the mind rely on similar systems of spatial representation for both perception and action? Here, we assessed the format of location representations in two simple spatial localization tasks. In one task, participants simply remembered the location of an item based solely on visual input. In another, participants remembered the location of a point in space based solely on kinesthetic input. Participants’ recall errors were more consistent with the use of polar coordinates than Cartesian coordinates in both tasks. Moreover, measures of spatial bias and performance were correlated across modalities. In a subsequent study, we tested the flexibility with which people use polar coordinates to represent space; we show that the format in which the information is presented to participants influences how that information is encoded and the errors that are made as a result. We suggest that polar coordinates may be a common means of representing location information across visual and motor modalities, but that these representations are also flexible in form.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Both experiments were pre-registered. Those pre-registrations as well as the raw data and analyses can be found via the Open Science Framework at: https://osf.io/yeqbc/.
Baud-Bovy, G., & Viviani, P. (2004). Amplitude and direction errors in kinesthetic pointing. Experimental Brain Research, 157, 197–214.
Flanders, M., Tillery, S. I. H., & Soechting, J. F. (1992). Early stages in a sensorimotor transformation. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 15, 309–320.
Gallistel, C. R. (1990). The organization of learning. MIT Press.
Goodale, M. A., & Milner, A. D. (1992). Separate visual pathways for perception and action. Trends in Neurosciences, 15, 20–25.
Gordon, J., Ghilardi, M. F., Cooper, S. E., & Ghez, C. (1994). Accuracy of planar reaching movements. Experimental Brain Research, 99, 112–130.
Hafting, T., Fyhn, M., Molden, S., Moser, M. B., & Moser, E. I. (2005). Microstructure of a spatial map in the entorhinal cortex. Nature, 436, 801–806.
Hancock, G. R., Butler, M. S., & Fischman, M. G. (1995). On the problem of two-dimensional error scores: Measures and analyses of accuracy, bias, and consistency. Journal of Motor Behavior, 27, 241–250.
Hudson, T. E., & Landy, M. S. (2012). Motor learning reveals the existence of multiple codes for movement planning. Journal of Neurophysiology, 108, 2708–2716.
Huttenlocher, J., Hedges, L. V., & Duncan, S. (1991). Categories and particulars: Prototype effects in estimating spatial location. Psychological Review, 98, 352–376.
Huttenlocher, J., Newcombe, N., & Sandberg, E. H. (1994). The coding of spatial location in young children. Cognitive Psychology, 27, 115–147.
Jiang, Y., Olson, I. R., & Chun, M. M. (2000). Organization of visual short-term memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 26, 683–702.
Kosslyn, S. M. (1996). Image and brain: The resolution of the imagery debate. MIT Press.
Kosslyn, S. M., Thompson, W. L., Klm, I. J., & Alpert, N. M. (1995). Topographical representations of mental images in primary visual cortex. Nature, 378, 496–498.
Kuipers, B. (1978). Modeling spatial knowledge. Cognitive Science, 2, 129–153.
Kuipers, B. (1982). The “map in the head” metaphor. Environment and Behavior, 14, 202–220.
Krakauer, J. W., Pine, Z. M., Ghilardi, M. F., & Ghez, C. (2000). Learning of visuomotor transformations for vectorial planning of reaching trajectories. Journal of Neuroscience, 20, 8916–8924.
Lee, S. A., Sovrano, V. A., & Spelke, E. S. (2012). Navigation as a source of geometric knowledge: Young children’s use of length, angle, distance, and direction in a reorientation task. Cognition, 123, 144–161.
Maley, C. J. (2011). Analog and digital, continuous and discrete. Philosophical Studies, 155, 117–131.
Maley, C. J. (2021). The physicality of representation. Synthese, 199, 14725–14750.
Marr, D. (1982). Vision: A computational investigation into the human representation and processing of visual information. Freeman.
McNamara, T. P., Hardy, J. K., & Hirtle, S. C. (1989). Subjective hierarchies in spatial memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 15, 211–227.
Messier, J., & Kalaska, J. F. (1999). Comparison of variability of initial kinematics and endpoints of reaching movements. Experimental Brain Research, 125, 139–152.
Mishkin, M., Ungerleider, L. G., & Macko, K. A. (1983). Object vision and spatial vision: Two cortical pathways. Trends in Neurosciences, 6, 414–417.
Müller, M., & Wehner, R. (1988). Path integration in desert ants, Cataglyphis fortis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 85, 5287–5290.
O’Keefe, J., & Dostrovsky, J. (1971). The hippocampus as a spatial map: Preliminary evidence from unit activity in the freely-moving rat. Brain Research, 34, 171–175.
O’Keefe, J., & Nadel, L. (1978). The hippocampus as a cognitive map. Clarendon Press.
Peer, M., Brunec, I. K., Newcombe, N. S., & Epstein, R. A. (2021). Structuring knowledge with cognitive maps and cognitive graphs. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 25, 37–54.
Pylyshyn, Z. W. (1973). What the mind’s eye tells the mind’s brain: A critique of mental imagery. Psychological Bulletin, 80, 1–24.
Robinson, D. A. (1972). Eye movements evoked by collicular stimulation in the alert monkey. Vision Research, 12, 1795–1808.
Taube, J. S. (1998). Head direction cells and the neurophysiological basis for a sense of direction. Progress in Neurobiology, 55, 225–256.
Taylor, H. A., & Tversky, B. (1992). Descriptions and depictions of environments. Memory & Cognition, 20, 483–496.
Tolman, E. C. (1948). Cognitive maps in rats and men. Psychological Review, 55, 189–208.
Warren, W. H., Rothman, D. B., Schnapp, B. H., & Ericson, J. D. (2017). Wormholes in virtual space: From cognitive maps to cognitive graphs. Cognition, 166, 152–163.
Wittlinger, M., Wehner, R., & Wolf, H. (2006). The ant odometer: Stepping on stilts and stumps. Science, 312, 1965–1967.
Yang, F., & Flombaum, J. (2018). Polar coordinates as the format of spatial representation in visual perception. Journal of Vision, 18, Article 21. https://doi.org/10.1167/18.10.21
Yousif, S. R. (2022). Redundancy and reducibility in the formats of spatial representations. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 17, 1778–1793.
Yousif, S. R., Chen, Y. C., & Scholl, B. J. (2020). Systematic angular biases in the representation of visual space. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 82, 3124–3143.
Yousif, S. R, & Keil, F. (2021a). ‘Decoding’ the locus of spatial representation from simple localization errors. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 43. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/185176jj
Yousif, S. R., & Keil, F. C. (2021b). The shape of space: Evidence for spontaneous but flexible use of polar coordinates in visuospatial representations. Psychological Science, 32, 573–586.
Yousif, S. R., & Lourenco, S. F. (2017). Are all geometric cues created equal? Children’s use of distance and length for reorientation. Cognitive Development, 43, 159–169.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Yousif, S.R., Forrence, A.D. & McDougle, S.D. A common format for representing spatial location in visual and motor working memory. Psychon Bull Rev (2023). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-023-02366-3