Getting Our Bearings: Advances in Understanding Spatial Reorientation

AbstractThere is widespread agreement that environmental geometry can be used in reorientation by human children, adults and non-human species. However, there is less agreement about the use of landmarks or “features”. Human adults almost always use them, but feature use is less common in young children and non-human animal species. One way of explaining these facts is to suggest that there is widespread availability of a “geometric module” for reorientation by the shape of environmental enclosures, while the ability to use landmarks represents a signature achievement of human spatial cognition, related to an array of other abstract processes such as map use, spatial communication, and analogical reasoning (Lee & Spelke, 2010). This proposal is not the only way to account for the phenomena. Several other theoretical frameworks vie to account for the hundreds of empirical findings on reorientation. One possibility is that there is an early-arising capacity to use landmarks for spatial information, with an initially low ‘weight’ that becomes strengthened over time (adaptive combination models, Xu, Regier, & Newcombe, 2017). Other proposals involve view-matching accounts (Stürzl, Cheung, Cheng, & Zeil, 2008) and learning theory accounts (Miller & Shettleworth, 2007).

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