How different spatial representations interact in virtual environments: the role of mental frame syncing

Silvia Serino, Giuseppe Riva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This experiment is aimed at understanding how egocentric experiences, allocentric viewpoint-dependent representations, and allocentric viewpoint-independent representations interact when encoding and retrieving a spatial environment. Although several cognitive theories have highlighted the interaction between reference frames, it is less clear about the role of a real-time presentation of allocentric viewpoint-dependent representation on the spatial organization of information. Sixty participants were asked to navigate in two virtual cities to memorize the position of one hidden object. Half of the participants had the possibility to visualize the virtual city with an interactive aerial view. Then, they were required to find the position of the object in three different experimental conditions (“retrieval with an interactive aerial view” vs. “retrieval on a map” vs. “retrieval without an interactive aerial view”). Results revealed that participants were significantly more precise in retrieving the position of the object when immersed in an egocentric experience with the interactive aerial view. The retrieval of spatial information is facilitated by the presence of the interactive aerial view of the city, since it provides a real-time allocentric viewpoint-dependent representation. More participants with high preference for using cardinal points tend to be more accurate when they were asked to retrieve the position of the object on the map. As suggested by the mental frame syncing hypothesis, the presence of an allocentric viewpoint-dependent representation during the retrieval seems to ease the imposition on a specific viewpoint on the stored abstract allocentric viewpoint-independent representation. Our findings represent another significant step toward the comprehension of the organization of spatial representations of our environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-201
Number of pages11
JournalCognitive Processing
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2015


  • Allocentric reference frame
  • Egocentric reference frame
  • Mental frame syncing
  • Spatial orientation
  • Virtual reality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Medicine(all)


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