Spatial Frames of Reference Used in Identifying Direction of Movement: An Unexpected Turn

  • Christy R. Miller
  • Gary L. Allen
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 2205)


Despite extensive interest in the role of frames of reference in spatial representation, there is little consensus regarding the cognitive effort associated with various reference systems and the cognitive costs (if any) involved in switching from one frame of reference to another. Relevant to these issues an experiment was conducted in which accuracy and response latency data were collected in a task in which observers verified the direction of turns made by a model car in a mock city in terms of four different spatial frames of reference: fixed-observer (relative-egocentric), fixed-environmental object (intrinsic-fixed), mobile object (intrinsic-mobile), and cardinal directions (absolute-global). Results showed that frames of reference could be differentiated on the basis of response accuracy and latency. In addition, no cognitive costs were observed in terms of accuracy or latency when the frames of reference switched between fixed-observer vs. global frames of reference or between mobile object and fixed environmental object frames of reference. Instead, a distinct performance advantage was observed when frames of reference were changed. This unexpected result is attributed to a phenomenon analogous to release from proactive inhibition.


frames of reference orientation spatial perspective spatial relations 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Acredolo, L. P. (1976). Frames of reference used by children for orientation in unfamiliar spaces. In G. Moore & R. Golledge (Eds.), Environmental Knowing (pp. 165–172). Stroudsburg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson, & Ross.Google Scholar
  2. Acredolo, L. P. (1990). Behavioral approaches to spatial orientation in infancy. In A. Diamond (Ed.), The development and neural bases of higher cognitive function (pp. 596–607). New York: New York Academy of Sciences.Google Scholar
  3. Allen, G. L. (1999). Children’s control of reference systems in spatial tasks: Foundations of spatial cognitive skill? Spatial Cognition and Computation, 1, 413–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bremner, G. J. (1978). Egocentric versus allocentric spatial coding in nine-monthold infants: Factors influencing the choice of code. Developmental Psychology, 14, 346–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bremner, G. J., Knowles, L., & Andreasen, G. (1994). Processes underlying young children’s spatial orientation during movement. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 57, 355–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bryant, D. J. & Tversky, B. (1999). Mental representations of perspective and spatial relations from diagrams and models. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 25, 137–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carlson-Radvansky, L. A. & Jiang, Y. (1998). Inhibition accompanies reference-frame selection. Psychological Science, 9, 386–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cornell, E. H., & Heth, C. D. (1979). Response versus place learning by human infants. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 5, 188–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Frank, A. U. (1998). Formal models for cognition-Taxonomy of spatial location description and frames of reference. In C. Freksa, C. Habel, & K. F. Wender (Eds.), Spatial cognition: An interdisciplinary approach to representing and processing spatial knowledge (pp. 293–312). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  10. Franklin, N., Tversky, B., & Coon, V. (1992). Switching points of view in spatial mental models. Memory and Cognition, 20, 507–518.Google Scholar
  11. Heth, C. D., & Cornell, E. H. (1980). Three experiences affecting spatial discrimination learning by ambulatory children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 30, 246–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Klatsky, R. L. (1998). Allocentric and egocentric spatial representations: Definitions, distinctions, and interconnections. In C. Freksa, C. Habel, & K. F. Wender (Eds.), Spatial cognition: An interdisciplinary approach to representing and processing spatial knowledge (pp. 1–17). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  13. Levelt, W. J. M. (1996). Perspective taking ellipsis in spatial descriptions. In P. Bloom, M. A. Peterson, L. Nadel, & M. F. Garrett (Eds.), Language and space (pp. 77–107). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  14. Levinson, S. C. (1996). Frames of reference and Molyneux’s question: Crosslinguistic evidence. In P. Bloom, M. A. Peterson, L. Nadel, & M. F. Garrett (Eds.), Language and space (pp. 109–169). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  15. Logan, G. D. (1995). Linguistic and conceptual control of visual spatial attention. Cognitive Psychology, 28, 103–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Logan, G. D. (1996). Top-down control of reference frame alignment in direction attention from cue to target. In A. F. Kramer, M. G. H. Coles, & G. D. Logan (Eds.), Converging operations in the study of visual selective attention (pp 415-437). Washington, D. C: APA.Google Scholar
  17. Newcombe, N. S., & Huttenlocher, J. (2000). Making space: The development of spatial representation and reasoning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  18. Rieser, J. J. (1979). Spatial orientation in six-month-old infants. Child Development, 50, 1078–1087.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Taylor, H. A., & Tversky, B. (1992). Descriptions and depictions of environments. Memory & Cognition, 20, 483–496.Google Scholar
  20. Taylor, H. A. & Tversky, B. (1996). Perspective in spatial descriptions. Journal of Memory and Language, 35, 371–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Tversky, B. (1991). Spatial mental models. In G. H. Bower (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (pp. 109–145). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  22. Tversky, B., Lee, P., & Mainwaring, S. (1999). Why do speakers mix perspectives? Spatial Cognition and Computation, 1, 399–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christy R. Miller
    • 1
  • Gary L. Allen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA

Personalised recommendations