Local and global reference frames for environmental spaces

Tobias Meilinger, Bernhard E. Riecke, Heinrich H. Bülthoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


Two experiments examined how locations in environmental spaces, which cannot be overseen from one location, are represented in memory: by global reference frames, multiple local reference frames, or orientation-free representations. After learning an immersive virtual environment by repeatedly walking a closed multisegment route, participants pointed to seven previously learned targets from different locations. Contrary to many conceptions of survey knowledge, local reference frames played an important role: Participants performed better when their body or pointing targets were aligned with the local reference frame (corridor). Moreover, most participants turned their head to align it with local reference frames. However, indications for global reference frames were also found: Participants performed better when their body or current corridor was parallel/orthogonal to a global reference frame instead of oblique. Participants showing this pattern performed comparatively better. We conclude that survey tasks can be solved based on interconnected local reference frames. Participants who pointed more accurately or quickly additionally used global reference frames.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)542-569
Number of pages28
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Mar


  • Environmental space
  • Head-mounted display
  • Navigation
  • Orientation-free
  • Pointing
  • Reference direction
  • Reference frame
  • Self-localization
  • Spatial memory
  • Spatial orientation
  • Survey knowledge
  • View-dependent
  • Virtual environment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Physiology (medical)


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