Spatial updating in virtual reality: The sufficiency of visual information

Bernhard E. Riecke, Douglas W. Cunningham, Heinrich H. Bülthoff

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

106 Citations (Scopus)


Robust and effortless spatial orientation critically relies on "automatic and obligatory spatial updating", a largely automatized and reflex-like process that transforms our mental egocentric representation of the immediate surroundings during ego-motions. A rapid pointing paradigm was used to assess automatic/obligatory spatial updating after visually displayed upright rotations with or without concomitant physical rotations using a motion platform. Visual stimuli displaying a natural, subject-known scene proved sufficient for enabling automatic and obligatory spatial updating, irrespective of concurrent physical motions. This challenges the prevailing notion that visual cues alone are insufficient for enabling such spatial updating of rotations, and that vestibular/proprioceptive cues are both required and sufficient. Displaying optic flow devoid of landmarks during the motion and pointing phase was insufficient for enabling automatic spatial updating, but could not be entirely ignored either. Interestingly, additional physical motion cues hardly improved performance, and were insufficient for affording automatic spatial updating. The results are discussed in the context of the mental transformation hypothesis and the sensorimotor interference hypothesis, which associates difficulties in imagined perspective switches to interference between the sensorimotor and cognitive (to-be-imagined) perspective.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)298-313
Number of pages16
JournalPsychological Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2007 May

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments This research was funded by the Max Planck Society and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG SFB 550 B2). We would like to thank two reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. Furthermore, we would like to thank Markus von der Heyde for helpful discussions and technical assistance.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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