Effects of Individual Differences on Spatial Cognition

A special issue of Brain Sciences (ISSN 2076-3425).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (20 September 2020) | Viewed by 21683

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Department of Psychology, University of Bologna, Viale Berti Pichat 5, 40127 Bologna, Italy
Interests: individual differences; navigational memory; topographical memory; environmental memory; witnessing and reasoning
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Guest Editor
Faculty of Psychology and Health Research Center, University of Almería, Almeria, Spain
Interests: spatial memory; sexual dimorphism; neurophysiology of spatial cognition
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Orienting through the environment is a complex and crucial skill that relies on a wide network of brain areas and it is characterized by great individual differences related to several factors including aging, cognitive style, expertise, and gender. Recent findings demonstrated that spatial navigation tasks may reveal subtle differences between normal and pathological aging, representing a potential neuropsychological predictor of neurodegenerative diseases. Investigating individual differences in navigation has a crucial role in the detection of early, preclinical stages od degenerative disorders, specifically for Alzheimer’s disease and to differentiate Alzheimer’s disease from other types of degenerative illnesses.

With this in mind, this Special Issue encourages submissions that may shed further light on individual differences in spatial cognition. Contributions that investigate the different impacts of age, gender, expertise, personality traits, and cognitive styles, as well as the effects due to the presence of neurological diseases, on navigation are welcome. Of particular interest are submissions that relate navigation to its neural underpinning: functional neuroimaging methods that enable the investigation of neurobehavioral, neuroanatomy, and neurophysiology pertaining to environmental representation.

Dr. Laura Piccardi
Dr. Raffaella Nori
Dr. Jose Manuel Cimadevilla
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • spatial navigation
  • egocentric and allocentric coordinates
  • cognitive styles
  • gender differences
  • aging
  • life-span
  • neurodegenerative disorders
  • topographical disorientation

Published Papers (9 papers)

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14 pages, 1582 KiB  
Article
Do Advanced Spatial Strategies Depend on the Number of Flight Hours? The Case of Military Pilots
by Marco Giancola, Paola Verde, Luigi Cacciapuoti, Gregorio Angelino, Laura Piccardi, Alessia Bocchi, Massimiliano Palmiero and Raffaella Nori
Brain Sci. 2021, 11(7), 851; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci11070851 - 25 Jun 2021
Cited by 11 | Viewed by 1911
Abstract
Background: Military pilots show advanced visuospatial skills. Previous studies demonstrate that they are better at mentally rotating a target, taking different perspectives, estimating distances and planning travel and have a topographic memory. Here, we compared navigational cognitive styles between military pilots and people [...] Read more.
Background: Military pilots show advanced visuospatial skills. Previous studies demonstrate that they are better at mentally rotating a target, taking different perspectives, estimating distances and planning travel and have a topographic memory. Here, we compared navigational cognitive styles between military pilots and people without flight experience. Pilots were expected to be more survey-style users than nonpilots, showing more advanced navigational strategies. Method: A total of 106 military jet pilots from the Italian Air Force and 92 nonpilots from the general population matched for education with the pilots were enrolled to investigate group differences in navigational styles. The participants were asked to perform a reduced version of the Spatial Cognitive Style Test (SCST), consisting of six tasks that allow us to distinguish individuals in terms of landmark (people orient themselves by using a figurative memory for environmental objects), route (people use an egocentric representation of the space) and survey (people have a map-like representation of the space) user styles. Results: In line with our hypothesis, military pilots mainly adopt the survey style, whereas nonpilots mainly adopt the route style. In addition, pilots outperformed nonpilots in both the 3D Rotation Task and Map Description Task. Conclusions: Military flight expertise influences some aspects of spatial ability, leading to enhanced human navigation. However, it must be considered that they are a population whose navigational skills were already high at the time of selection at the academy before formal training began. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Effects of Individual Differences on Spatial Cognition)
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26 pages, 2432 KiB  
Article
Activity Strength within Optic Flow-Sensitive Cortical Regions Is Associated with Visual Path Integration Accuracy in Aged Adults
by Lauren Zajac and Ronald Killiany
Brain Sci. 2021, 11(2), 245; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci11020245 - 16 Feb 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1504
Abstract
Spatial navigation is a cognitive skill fundamental to successful interaction with our environment, and aging is associated with weaknesses in this skill. Identifying mechanisms underlying individual differences in navigation ability in aged adults is important to understanding these age-related weaknesses. One understudied factor [...] Read more.
Spatial navigation is a cognitive skill fundamental to successful interaction with our environment, and aging is associated with weaknesses in this skill. Identifying mechanisms underlying individual differences in navigation ability in aged adults is important to understanding these age-related weaknesses. One understudied factor involved in spatial navigation is self-motion perception. Important to self-motion perception is optic flow–the global pattern of visual motion experienced while moving through our environment. A set of optic flow-sensitive (OF-sensitive) cortical regions was defined in a group of young (n = 29) and aged (n = 22) adults. Brain activity was measured in this set of OF-sensitive regions and control regions using functional magnetic resonance imaging while participants performed visual path integration (VPI) and turn counting (TC) tasks. Aged adults had stronger activity in RMT+ during both tasks compared to young adults. Stronger activity in the OF-sensitive regions LMT+ and RpVIP during VPI, not TC, was associated with greater VPI accuracy in aged adults. The activity strength in these two OF-sensitive regions measured during VPI explained 42% of the variance in VPI task performance in aged adults. The results of this study provide novel support for global motion processing as a mechanism underlying visual path integration in normal aging. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Effects of Individual Differences on Spatial Cognition)
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15 pages, 1743 KiB  
Article
Thalamic Functional Connectivity during Spatial Long-Term Memory and the Role of Sex
by Dylan S. Spets and Scott D. Slotnick
Brain Sci. 2020, 10(12), 898; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10120898 - 24 Nov 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 2236
Abstract
The thalamus has been implicated in many cognitive processes, including long-term memory. More specifically, the anterior (AT) and mediodorsal (MD) thalamic nuclei have been associated with long-term memory. Despite extensive mapping of the anatomical connections between these nuclei and other brain regions, little [...] Read more.
The thalamus has been implicated in many cognitive processes, including long-term memory. More specifically, the anterior (AT) and mediodorsal (MD) thalamic nuclei have been associated with long-term memory. Despite extensive mapping of the anatomical connections between these nuclei and other brain regions, little is known regarding their functional connectivity during long-term memory. The current study sought to determine which brain regions are functionally connected to AT and MD during spatial long-term memory and whether sex differences exist in the patterns of connectivity. During encoding, abstract shapes were presented to the left and right of fixation. During retrieval, shapes were presented at fixation, and participants made an “old-left” or “old-right” judgment. Activations functionally connected to AT and MD existed in regions with known anatomical connections to each nucleus as well as in a broader network of long-term memory regions. Sex differences were identified in a subset of these regions. A targeted region-of-interest analysis identified anti-correlated activity between MD and the hippocampus that was specific to females, which is consistent with findings in rodents. The current results suggest that AT and MD play key roles during spatial long-term memory and suggest that these functions may be sex specific. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Effects of Individual Differences on Spatial Cognition)
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12 pages, 911 KiB  
Article
Chatting While Walking Does Not Interfere with Topographical Working Memory
by Laura Piccardi, Alessia Bocchi, Massimiliano Palmiero, Maddalena Boccia, Simonetta D’Amico and Raffaella Nori
Brain Sci. 2020, 10(11), 811; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10110811 - 02 Nov 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1682
Abstract
In the present study, we employed the dual task technique to explore the role of language in topographical working memory when landmarks are present along the path. We performed three experiments to mainly test the effects of language but also motor, spatial motor [...] Read more.
In the present study, we employed the dual task technique to explore the role of language in topographical working memory when landmarks are present along the path. We performed three experiments to mainly test the effects of language but also motor, spatial motor and spatial environment interferences on topographical working memory. We aimed to clarify both the role of language in navigational working memory per se and the extent to which spatial language interferes with the main task more than the other types of interference. Specifically, in the three experiments we investigated the differences due to different verbal interference sources (i.e., articulatory suppression of nonsense syllables; right and left, up and bottom; and north, south, east and west). The main hypothesis was that the use of spatial language affected more landmark-based topographical working memory than both the verbalization of nonsense syllables and other types of interference. Results show no effect of spatial language, only spatial environmental interference affected the navigational working memory performance. In general, this might depend on the scarce role of spatial language in online navigational working memory tasks. Specifically, language is more important for learning and retrieval of the cognitive map. Implications and future research directions are discussed. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Effects of Individual Differences on Spatial Cognition)
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16 pages, 1344 KiB  
Article
Studying Individual Differences in Spatial Cognition Through Differential Item Functioning Analysis
by Antonella Lopez, Alessandro O. Caffò, Luigi Tinella, Albert Postma and Andrea Bosco
Brain Sci. 2020, 10(11), 774; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10110774 - 24 Oct 2020
Cited by 8 | Viewed by 2179
Abstract
Background: In the field of spatial cognition, the study of individual differences represents a typical research topic. Gender and age have been prominently investigated. A promising statistical technique used to identify the different responses to items in relation to different group memberships [...] Read more.
Background: In the field of spatial cognition, the study of individual differences represents a typical research topic. Gender and age have been prominently investigated. A promising statistical technique used to identify the different responses to items in relation to different group memberships is the Differential Item Functioning Analysis (DIF). The aim of the present study was to investigate the DIF of the Landmark positioning on a Map (LPM) task, across age groups (young and elderly) and gender, in a sample of 400 healthy human participants. Methods: LPM is a hometown map completion test based on well-known and familiar landmarks used to assess allocentric mental representations. DIF was assessed on LPM items two times: on categorical (i.e., positions) and coordinate (i.e., distances) scores, separately. Results: When positions and distances were difficult to assess with respect to the intended reference point, the probability to endorse the items seemed to get worse for the elderly compared to the younger participants. Instead other features of landmarks (high pleasantness, restorativeness) seemed to improve the elderly performance. A gender-related improvement of probability to endorse distance estimation of some landmarks, favoring women, emerged, probably associated with their repeated experiences with those landmarks. Overall, the complexity of the task seemed to have a differential impact on young and elderly people while gender-oriented activities and places seemed to have a differential impact on men and women. Conclusions: For the first time DIF was applied to a spatial mental representation task, based on the schematic sketch maps of the participants. The application of DIF to the study of individual differences in spatial cognition should become a systematic routine to early detect differential items, improving knowledge, as well as experimental control, on individual differences. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Effects of Individual Differences on Spatial Cognition)
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11 pages, 2384 KiB  
Article
Allocentric Spatial Memory Performance in a Virtual Reality-Based Task is Conditioned by Visuospatial Working Memory Capacity
by Joaquín Castillo Escamilla, José Javier Fernández Castro, Shishir Baliyan, Juan José Ortells-Pareja, Juan José Ortells Rodríguez and José Manuel Cimadevilla
Brain Sci. 2020, 10(8), 552; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10080552 - 13 Aug 2020
Cited by 14 | Viewed by 3573
Abstract
Traditionally, the medial temporal lobe has been considered a key brain region for spatial memory. Nevertheless, executive functions, such as working memory, also play an important role in complex behaviors, such as spatial navigation. Thus, the main goal of this study is to [...] Read more.
Traditionally, the medial temporal lobe has been considered a key brain region for spatial memory. Nevertheless, executive functions, such as working memory, also play an important role in complex behaviors, such as spatial navigation. Thus, the main goal of this study is to clarify the relationship between working memory capacity and spatial memory performance. Spatial memory was assessed using a virtual reality-based procedure, the Boxes Room task, and the visual working memory with the computer-based Change Localization Task. One hundred and twenty-three (n = 123) participants took part in this study. Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) revealed a statistically significant relationship between working memory capacity and spatial abilities. Thereafter, two subgroups n = 60, were formed according to their performance in the working memory task (1st and 4th quartiles, n = 30 each). Results demonstrate that participants with high working memory capacity committed fewer mistakes in the spatial task compared to the low working memory capacity group. Both groups improved their performance through repeated trials of the spatial task, thus showing that they could learn spatial layouts independent of their working memory capacity. In conclusion, these findings support that spatial memory performance is directly related to working memory skills. This could be relevant for spatial memory assessment in brain lesioned patients. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Effects of Individual Differences on Spatial Cognition)
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18 pages, 2012 KiB  
Article
The Relationship between Emotionally Laden Landmarks, Spatial Abilities, and Personality Traits: An Exploratory Study
by Francesco Ruotolo, Filomena L. Sbordone and Ineke J.M. van der Ham
Brain Sci. 2020, 10(6), 326; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10060326 - 27 May 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2588
Abstract
Separate research lines have shown that the way we process spatial information is influenced by individual factors, such as personality traits and basic spatial abilities. Alongside, recent studies suggest that environmental landmarks can be represented differently depending on their emotional content. However, to [...] Read more.
Separate research lines have shown that the way we process spatial information is influenced by individual factors, such as personality traits and basic spatial abilities. Alongside, recent studies suggest that environmental landmarks can be represented differently depending on their emotional content. However, to our knowledge, no study has addressed so far the issue of whether there is a relationship between individual factors and the way we represent and use spatial information that conveys emotional content. Therefore, this exploratory study aimed to (i) investigate the relationship between personality traits and the use of spatial strategies in relation to emotional stimuli; (ii) investigate if a different pattern emerges according to a body- or object-based spatial encodings. After watching movies of routes characterized by positive, negative, or neutral landmarks, participants performed a “route continuation” (RC, i.e., left/right decision) and a “distance comparison” task (DC, i.e., what was the landmark closest to X?). Furthermore, participants performed a mental rotation task (MR), the Corsi block tapping (CBT), and the Bergen right-left discrimination tests (B-RL). Personality traits were assessed through the Ten Item Personality Inventory (TIPI). Results showed that a better performance at the RC task was associated with higher scores at CBT tasks in the positive condition and at B-RL test and agreeableness scale from TIPI in both positive and neutral conditions. Instead, the MR task positively correlated with the DC task in all conditions. In sum, individuals’ spatial abilities, personality traits, and task requests influenced the way emotionally laden landmarks were memorized. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Effects of Individual Differences on Spatial Cognition)
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16 pages, 633 KiB  
Article
Learning a Path from Real Navigation: The Advantage of Initial View, Cardinal North and Visuo-Spatial Ability
by Veronica Muffato and Chiara Meneghetti
Brain Sci. 2020, 10(4), 204; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10040204 - 01 Apr 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2666
Abstract
Background: Spatial cognition research strives to maximize conditions favoring environment representation. This study examined how initial (egocentric) navigation headings interact with allocentric references in terms of world-based information (such as cardinal points) in forming environment representations. The role of individual visuo-spatial factors was [...] Read more.
Background: Spatial cognition research strives to maximize conditions favoring environment representation. This study examined how initial (egocentric) navigation headings interact with allocentric references in terms of world-based information (such as cardinal points) in forming environment representations. The role of individual visuo-spatial factors was also examined. Method: Ninety-one undergraduates took an unfamiliar path in two learning conditions, 46 walked from cardinal south to north (SN learning), and 45 walked from cardinal north to south (NS learning). Path recall was tested with SN and NS pointing tasks. Perspective-taking ability and self-reported sense of direction were also assessed. Results: Linear models showed a better performance for SN learning and SN pointing than for NS learning and NS pointing. The learning condition x pointing interaction proved SN pointing more accurate than NS pointing after SN learning, while SN and NS pointing accuracy was similar after NS learning. Perspective-taking ability supported pointing accuracy. Conclusions: These results indicate that initial heading aligned with cardinal north prompt a north-oriented representation. No clear orientation of the representation emerges when the initial heading is aligned with cardinal south. Environment representations are supported by individual perspective-taking ability. These findings offer new insight on the environmental and individual factors facilitating environment representations acquired from navigation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Effects of Individual Differences on Spatial Cognition)
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Review

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14 pages, 1788 KiB  
Review
The Effect of Blindness on Spatial Asymmetries
by Luca Rinaldi, Andrea Ciricugno, Lotfi B. Merabet, Tomaso Vecchi and Zaira Cattaneo
Brain Sci. 2020, 10(10), 662; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10100662 - 23 Sep 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2577
Abstract
The human cerebral cortex is asymmetrically organized with hemispheric lateralization pervading nearly all neural systems of the brain. Whether the lack of normal visual development affects hemispheric specialization subserving the deployment of visuospatial attention asymmetries is controversial. In principle, indeed, the lack of [...] Read more.
The human cerebral cortex is asymmetrically organized with hemispheric lateralization pervading nearly all neural systems of the brain. Whether the lack of normal visual development affects hemispheric specialization subserving the deployment of visuospatial attention asymmetries is controversial. In principle, indeed, the lack of early visual experience may affect the lateralization of spatial functions, and the blind may rely on a different sensory input compared to the sighted. In this review article, we thus present a current state-of-the-art synthesis of empirical evidence concerning the effects of visual deprivation on the lateralization of various spatial processes (i.e., including line bisection, mirror symmetry, and localization tasks). Overall, the evidence reviewed indicates that spatial processes are supported by a right hemispheric network in the blind, hence, analogously to the sighted. Such a right-hemisphere dominance, however, seems more accentuated in the blind as compared to the sighted as indexed by the greater leftward bias shown in different spatial tasks. This is possibly the result of the more pronounced involvement of the right parietal cortex during spatial tasks in blind individuals compared to the sighted, as well as of the additional recruitment of the right occipital cortex, which would reflect the cross-modal plastic phenomena that largely characterize the blind brain. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Effects of Individual Differences on Spatial Cognition)
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