Title

More than a Feeling: Incidental Learning of Array Geometry by Blindfolded Adult Humans Revealed through Touch

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2-2012

Publication Title

The Journal of Experimental Biology

DOI

10.1242/jeb.080952

Abstract

View-based matching theories of orientation suggest that mobile organisms encode a visual memory consisting of a visual panorama from a target location and maneuver to reduce discrepancy between current visual perception and this stored visual memory to return to a location. Recent success of such theories to explain the orientation behavior of insects and birds raises questions regarding the extent to which such an explanation generalizes to other species. In the present study, we attempted to determine the extent to which such view-based matching theories may explain the orientation behavior of a mammalian species (in this case adult humans). We modified a traditional enclosure orientation task so that it involved only the use of the haptic sense. The use of a haptic orientation task to investigate the extent to which view-based matching theories may explain the orientation behavior of adult humans appeared ideal because it provided an opportunity for us to explicitly prohibit the use of vision. Specifically, we trained disoriented and blindfolded human participants to search by touch for a target object hidden in one of four locations marked by distinctive textural cues located on top of four discrete landmarks arranged in a rectangular array. Following training, we removed the distinctive textural cues and probed the extent to which participants learned the geometry of the landmark array. In the absence of vision and the trained textural cues, participants showed evidence that they learned the geometry of the landmark array. Such evidence cannot be explained by an appeal to view-based matching strategies and is consistent with explanations of spatial orientation related to the incidental learning of environmental geometry.