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01-07-2015 | Original Article | Uitgave 4/2015

Psychological Research 4/2015

Age-related effects on spatial memory across viewpoint changes relative to different reference frames

Psychological Research > Uitgave 4/2015
Maria Montefinese, Valentina Sulpizio, Gaspare Galati, Giorgia Committeri


Remembering object positions across different views is a fundamental competence for acting and moving appropriately in a large-scale space. Behavioural and neurological changes in elderly subjects suggest that the spatial representations of the environment might decline compared to young participants. However, no data are available on the use of different reference frames within topographical space in aging. Here we investigated the use of allocentric and egocentric frames in aging, by asking young and older participants to encode the location of a target in a virtual room relative either to stable features of the room (allocentric environment-based frame), or to an unstable objects set (allocentric objects-based frame), or to the viewer’s viewpoint (egocentric frame). After a viewpoint change of 0° (absent), 45° (small) or 135° (large), participants judged whether the target was in the same spatial position as before relative to one of the three frames. Results revealed a different susceptibility to viewpoint changes in older than young participants. Importantly, we detected a worst performance, in terms of reaction times, for older than young participants in the allocentric frames. The deficit was more marked for the environment-based frame, for which a lower sensitivity was revealed as well as a worst performance even when no viewpoint change occurred. Our data provide new evidence of a greater vulnerability of the allocentric, in particular environment-based, spatial coding with aging, in line with the retrogenesis theory according to which cognitive changes in aging reverse the sequence of acquisition in mental development.

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