Mental imagery skills and topographical orientation in humans: A correlation study

Liana Palermo, Giuseppe Iaria, Cecilia Guariglia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Several studies provide evidence that mental imagery is critical for human navigation. However, the contribution of different mental imagery abilities to the individuals' skill of using specific orientation strategies remains unclear. In the present study we assessed a variety of mental imagery skills and investigated their contribution in relationship with the selective individuals' ability of forming and using a mental representation of the environment, namely a cognitive map. Indeed, despite the use of alternative strategies that individuals may adopt while moving along the same well-known route, cognitive maps are critical for orientation since they allow individuals to reach any target location from any place in the environment. We found that the ability to form a cognitive map was related to the specific ability of performing mental rotations of simple geometrical shapes, and the ability to imaging ourselves moving on a map. Other imagery skills such as the ability to generate mental images from memory or the ability of mentally manipulate objects were not correlated with the individuals' performance in forming the cognitive map. Moreover, we revealed gender differences in forming a cognitive map, as well as in performing some of the mental imagery tests. We discuss these findings in order to shed more light on the specific role of mental imagery in human topographical orientation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-253
Number of pages6
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 10 2008


  • Cognitive map
  • Gender
  • Mental rotation
  • Navigation
  • Virtual reality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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