Geometric Cues, Reference Frames, and the Equivalence of Experienced-Aligned and Novel-Aligned Views in Human Spatial Memory

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Spatial memories are often organized around reference frames, and environmental shape provides a salient cue to reference frame selection. To date, however, the environmental cues responsible for influencing reference frame selection remain relatively unknown. To connect research on reference frame selection with that on orientation via environmental shape, we explored the extent to which geometric cues were incidentally encoded and represented in memory by evaluating their influence on reference frame selection. Using a virtual environment equipped with a head-mounted-display, we presented participants with to-be-remembered object arrays. We manipulated whether the experienced viewpoint was aligned or misaligned with global (i.e., the principal axis of space) or local (i.e., wall orientations) geometric cues. During subsequent judgments of relative direction (i.e., participants imagined standing at one object, facing a second object, and pointed toward a third object), we show that performance was best when imagining perspectives aligned with these geometric cues; moreover, global geometric cues were sufficient for reference frame selection, global and local geometric cues were capable of exerting differential influence on reference frame selection, and performance from experienced-imagined perspectives was equivalent to novel-imagined perspectives aligned with geometric cues. These results explicitly connect theory regarding spatial reference frame selection and spatial orientation via environmental shape and indicate that spatial memories are organized around fundamental geometric properties of space. (Contains 1 table and 7 figures.)