Effect of cognitive style on learning and retrieval of navigational environments

Maddalena Boccia, Francesca Vecchione, Laura Piccardi, Cecilia Guariglia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Field independence (FI) has been found to correlate with a wide range of cognitive processes requiring cognitive restructuring. Cognitive restructuring, that is going beyond the information given by the setting, is pivotal in creating stable mental representations of the environment,the so-called "cognitive maps," and it affects visuo-spatial abilities underpinning environmental navigation. Here we evaluated whether FI, by fostering cognitive restructuring of environmental cues on the basis of an internal frame of reference, affects the learning and retrieval of a novel environment. Fifty-four participants were submitted to the Embedded Figure Test (EFT) for assessing their Cognitive Style (CS) and to the Perspective Taking/Spatial Orientation Test (PTSOT) and the Santa Barbara Sense of Direction Scale (SBSOD) for assessing their spatial perspective taking and orientation skills. They were also required to learn a path in a novel, real environment (route learning, RL), to recognize landmarks of this path among distracters (landmark recognition, LR), to order them (landmark ordering, LO) and to draw the learned path on a map (map drawing, MD). Retrieval tasks were performed both immediately after learning (immediate-retrieval) and the day after (24 h-retrieval). Performances on EFT significantly correlated with the time needed to learn the path, with MD (both in the immediate- and in the 24 h- retrievals), results on LR (in 24-retrieval) and performances on PTSOT. Interestingly, we found that gender interacted with CS on RL (time of learning) and MD. Females performed significantly worse than males only if they were classified as FD, but did not differ from males if they were classified as FI. These results suggest that CS affects learning and retrieval of navigational environment, especially when a map-like representation is required. We propose that CS may be pivotal in forming the cognitive map of the environment, likely due to the higher ability of FI individuals in restructuring environmental cues in a global and flexible long-term representation of the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number496
JournalFrontiers in Pharmacology
Issue numberJUL
Publication statusPublished - Jul 25 2017


  • Egocentric and allocentric coordinates
  • Field dependence
  • Human navigation
  • Patial mental representation
  • Spatial orientation
  • Topographical memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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