Incidental Encoding of Enclosure Geometry Does Not Require Visual Input: Evidence from Blind-Folded Adults

Bradley R. Sturz, Georgia Southern University
Katherine A. Gaskin, Armstrong Atlantic State University
Jonathan E. Roberts, Armstrong Atlantic State University


Although spatial orientation with respect to the geometric properties of an environment appears to be an ability shared across various species, debate remains concerning potential similarities and differences with respect to the underlying mechanism(s). One prominent theoretical account of orientation with respect to the environment suggests that participants match visual memories to their current visual perception and navigate to reduce the discrepancy between the two. We tested whether visual input was necessary to incidentally encode the geometric properties of an environment, by training disoriented and blindfolded adult participants to search by touch for a target object hidden in one of four locations, marked by distinctive textural cues, located in the corners of a rectangular enclosure. Following training, we removed the distinctive textural cues and probed the extent to which the participants had learned the geometry of the enclosure. Even in the absence of vision and unique textural cues, search behavior was consistent with evidence for the encoding of enclosure geometry. A follow-up experiment in which participants were trained in a rectangular enclosure but were tested in a square enclosure provided converging evidence that search behavior was influenced by the geometric properties of the enclosure. Collectively, these results suggest that even in the absence of vision, participants incidentally encoded the geometric properties of the enclosure, indicating that visual input is not required to encode the geometric properties of an environment.