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J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2010 May;36(3):686-98. doi: 10.1037/a0018713.

Where do you think you are? Effects of conceptual current position on spatial memory performance.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.


Testing spatial memory within the same environment used for learning produces interference between one's immediate representation of current position and the to-be-retrieved position. In a series of 3 experiments, we show that "current position" and its influence on memory performance can be driven by conceptual factors in an ambiguous testing situation. First, we demonstrate that simple instructions about the testing conditions-"you are in the space" versus "imagine the space"-determined whether a participant showed interference from current position, reflecting the effect of one's conceived position in space on long-term memory retrieval. In addition, we show that when instructions motivate this use of current position under ambiguous conditions, the position assumed is defined by the last known position rather than the learning position. We account for these results by suggesting that current models of spatial memory need to incorporate both the perceptual and conceptual testing environment, malleable versus stable features, and the interaction of current position with long-term memory.

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