Visuospatial working memory and the processing of spatial descriptions

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The dual-task paradigm was used to determine whether the spatial, visual and verbal components of working memory are engaged in the processing of spatial descriptions. Participants listened to route or survey descriptions of urban-like spatial environments and then drew corresponding maps. The position of each new landmark was described either in terms of the direction to move toward this landmark (route descriptions) or its relative location with regard to the previously mentioned landmark (survey descriptions). Route and survey descriptions resulted in similar recall performance in the absence of an interfering task and landmarks were consistently less well recalled than their associated moves/locations. The pattern of interference resulting from the secondary tasks indicated that the processing of landmarks called upon both the visual and spatial components of working memory in the route perspective, whereas the processing of moves/locations essentially relied on the spatial component in both the route and the survey perspectives. The verbal component of working memory was only involved in the processing of landmarks in the survey perspective. The results suggest that distinct cognitive processes support memory for route and survey descriptions, and that distinct working memory resources support the processing of landmarks and landmark positions.

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