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Brandt, Thomas; Huber, Markus; Schramm, Hannah; Kugler, Günter; Dieterich, Marianne and Glasauer, Stefan (2015): Taller and Shorter: Human 3-D Spatial Memory Distorts Familiar Multilevel Buildings.
In: PLOS ONE 10(10), e0141257 [PDF, 1MB]

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Animal experiments report contradictory findings on the presence of a behavioural and neuronal anisotropy exhibited in vertical and horizontal capabilities of spatial orientation and navigation. We performed a pointing experiment in humans on the imagined 3-D direction of the location of various invisible goals that were distributed horizontally and vertically in a familiar multilevel hospital building. The 21 participants were employees who had worked for years in this building. The hypothesis was that comparison of the experimentally determined directions and the true directions would reveal systematic inaccuracy or dimensional anisotropy of the localizations. The study provides first evidence that the internal representation of a familiar multilevel building was distorted compared to the dimensions of the true building: vertically 215% taller and horizontally 51% shorter. This was not only demonstrated in the mathematical reconstruction of the mental model based on the analysis of the pointing experiments but also by the participants' drawings of the front view and the ground plan of the building. Thus, in the mental model both planes were altered in different directions: compressed for the horizontal floor plane and stretched for the vertical column plane. This could be related to human anisotropic behavioural performance of horizontal and vertical navigation in such buildings.

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