Categorical and metric distance information in mental representations derived from route and survey descriptions

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Descriptions with a route perspective take the addressee into the environment and give information on the position of objects relative to the changing position of the addressee. In contrast, descriptions with a survey perspective adopt a birdrsquos-eye view and describe objects with respect to one another. The objective of the present study was to determine whether the perspective of a spatial description influences the extent to which categorical and metric distance is represented. We studied the characteristics of the representations that were constructed from route or survey descriptions with a recognition/priming task and a bird-flight distance comparison task. Spatial priming and symbolic distance effects were present after participants had studied a verbal description. The spatial priming effect indicated that objects in the environment were spatially organized according to some kind of distance (i.e., categorical or metric) in the representation of the listener. Furthermore, this organization was not dependent on whether the objects in a given prime-target relation were explicitly mentioned in the same sentence, or instead had to be inferred from the text. The presence of symbolic distance effects indicated that larger differences in metric distance were easier to compare than smaller differences, which is an effect that is also expected if actual metric distances on a visual map have to be compared. Therefore, further evidence was provided that people are able to create map-like spatial representations of verbal descriptions. We replicated previous findings that route and survey descriptions result in representations from which categorical spatial information is equally available. This study is the first to find evidence that a mental representation, which contains some analog spatial detail (i.e., metric distance), can be constructed from a description with a route perspective. Importantly, it should be noted that a relative advantage for survey descriptions over route descriptions did exist, suggesting that survey descriptions lead to spatial representations with a more fine-grained localization of the objects than route descriptions.
Original languageUndefined
Pages (from-to)221-232
JournalPsychological research = Psychologische Forschung
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • IR-73317

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