Spatial memory in the real world: Long-term representations of everyday environments

Steven A. Marchette, Ashok Yerramsetti, Thomas J. Burns, Amy L. Shelton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


When people learn an environment, they appear to establish a principle orientation just as they would determine the "top" of a novel object. Evidence for reference orientations has largely come from observations of orientation dependence in pointing judgments: Participants are most accurate when asked to recall the space from a particular orientation. However, these investigations have used highly constrained encoding in both time-scale and navigational goals, leaving open the possibility that larger spaces experienced during navigational learning depend on a different organizational scheme. To test this possibility, we asked undergraduates to perform judgments of relative direction on familiar landmarks around their well-learned campus. Participants showed clear evidence for a single reference orientation, generally aligned along salient axes defined by the buildings and paths. This result argues that representing space involves the establishment of a reference orientation, a requirement that endures over repeated exposures and extensive experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1401-1408
Number of pages8
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Memory
  • Memory organization
  • Representation
  • Spatial cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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