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23-06-2017 | Original Article | Uitgave 6/2018

Psychological Research 6/2018

The many routes of mental navigation: contrasting the effects of a detailed and gist retrieval approach on using and forming spatial representations

Psychological Research > Uitgave 6/2018
Signy Sheldon, Alexa Ruel


Navigated routes can be recalled by remembering a schematic layout or with additional sensory and perceptual details, engaging episodic memory processes. In this study, we contrasted the effects of these remembering approaches on retrieving real-world navigated routes, the impact on flexibly using familiar route information and on learning new spatial representations. In a within-subjects design, participants were oriented to recall familiar routes under two remembering conditions—a detail condition that promoted episodic memory processes and a gist condition in which routes were recalled via schematic processes. In each condition, participants performed two subsequent navigation tasks. They first described solutions to navigation problems that involved the recalled familiar route (e.g., navigating around a road block or to a new destination) and then learned and recalled a route within a novel spatial environment. All navigation descriptions were scored for the number of spatial references, entities, and sensory descriptions. We report the following findings. First, when describing the familiar routes, more details were generated in the detail condition, but a higher proportion of these details were spatial references in the gist condition. Route descriptions in the gist condition also relied more on egocentric spatial representations than in the detail condition. Next, when solving navigation problems in the familiar environment, solution routes were described with more details in the detail condition and deviated less from the familiar route than in the gist condition. Finally, the detail condition led to the preferential encoding of entity and sensory descriptive details of new spatial representations. These findings suggest that activating episodic processes at retrieval has distinct effects on how familiar information can be flexibly used and how new spatial representations are formed.

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