Not all memories are the same: Situational context influences spatial recall within one’s city of residency

Tobias Meilinger, Julia Frankenstein, Nadine Simon, Heinrich H. Bülthoff, Jean Pierre Bresciani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Reference frames in spatial memory encoding have been examined intensively in recent years. However, their importance for recall has received considerably less attention. In the present study, passersby used tags to arrange a configuration map of prominent city center landmarks. It has been shown that such configurational knowledge is memorized within a north-up reference frame. However, participants adjusted their maps according to their body orientations. For example, when participants faced south, the maps were likely to face south-up. Participants also constructed maps along their location perspective—that is, the self–target direction. If, for instance, they were east of the represented area, their maps were oriented west-up. If the location perspective and body orientation were in opposite directions (i.e., if participants faced away from the city center), participants relied on location perspective. The results indicate that reference frames in spatial recall depend on the current situation rather than on the organization in long-term memory. These results cannot be explained by activation spread within a view graph, which had been used to explain similar results in the recall of city plazas. However, the results are consistent with forming and transforming a spatial image of nonvisible city locations from the current location. Furthermore, prior research has almost exclusively focused on body- and environment-based reference frames. The strong influence of location perspective in an everyday navigational context indicates that such a reference frame should be considered more often when examining human spatial cognition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-252
Number of pages7
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Feb 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Grant Numbers ME 3476/2-2 and SFB/TR8, and by the Brain Korea 21 PLUS Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea, funded by the Ministry of Education. We thank Sandra Holzer, our participants, the pub owners, Sandra Andraszewicz, Cora Kürner, Rita Carter, and Jonathan Rebane for their help.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Psychonomic Society, Inc.


  • Embodied cognition
  • Navigation
  • Recall
  • Spatial memory
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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