Representational flexibility and specificity following spatial descriptions of real-world environments

Tad T. Brunyé*, David N. Rapp, Holly A. Taylor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Current theories are mixed with regard to the nature of mental representations following spatial description reading. Whereas some findings argue that individuals' representations are invariant following text-based, map-based, or first-person experience, other studies have suggested that representations can also exhibit considerable flexibility. In the current project we investigated the influences of spatial description perspectives and depictions on the nature of mental representations. In Experiment 1, participants exhibited more flexibility following survey, compared to route, spatial descriptions. With extended study time, though, flexibility following route descriptions increased. In Experiment 2, complementary maps further enhanced flexibility for route-based descriptions. Interestingly, increased exposure to these maps actually reduced flexibility following survey descriptions. These results demonstrate that the nature of our spatial mental representations depends upon a variety of factors; delineating these factors is critical for resolving debates concerning the malleable and invariant characteristics of spatial memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)418-443
Number of pages26
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2008


  • Maps
  • Memory
  • Mental models
  • Spatial cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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