Inputs to spatial memory are functionally equivalent

We can form spatial memory (i.e. Make maps of landscapes) by:

  • Direct perception
  • Seeing/studying realistic maps
  • Looking at a diagram (concept model, subway map)
  • Reading or hearing language describing the space

As long as we are prompted to treat the input as a “map,” we can use information from it. They’re not all equally easy to make a map from, but once you’ve got it, you can use it in the same way.


Avraamides, Marios N., et al. “Functional Equivalence of Spatial Representations Derived from Vision and Language: Evidence from Allocentric Judgments.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition, 2004, pp. 801–14.

Burgess, Neil. “Spatial Memory: How Egocentric and Allocentric Combine.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 10, no. 12, Dec. 2006, pp. 551–57.

Wang 2002 argues based on animal models that there’s only an egocentric model. Burgess argues that new experiments say both ego- and allocentric. Only humans can combine things using maps (symbolic representations) and language. p.1

Kelly, Jonathan W., and Timothy P. McNamara. “Spatial Memories of Virtual Environments: How Egocentric Experience, Intrinsic Structure, and Extrinsic Structure Interact.” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, vol. 15, no. 2, Apr. 2008, pp. 322–27.

We seem to use the same parts of our brain to make sense of virtual environments, but it’s not as easy. Physical movement and all the cues that aren’t replicated on a website add a lot to our mapping abilities. p. 2