Asymmetric learning transfer between imagined viewer- and object-rotations: Evidence of a hierarchical organization of spatial reference frames

Brian and Cognition - 2009-12-01Pellizzer G, Ba MB, Zanello A, Merlo MCG10.1016/j.bandc.2009.08.001
Neural resources subserving spatial processing in either egocentric or allocentric reference frames are, at least partly, dissociated. However, it is unclear whether these two types of representations are independent or whether they interact. We investigated this question using a learning transfer paradigm. The experiment and material were designed so that they could be used in a clinical setting. Here, we tested healthy subjects in an imagined viewer-rotation task and an imagined object-rotation task. The order of the tasks was counterbalanced across subjects. The results showed that subjects who did the viewer-rotation task first had fewer errors and shorter latencies of response in the object-rotation task, whereas subjects who did the object-rotation task first had little if any advantage in the viewer-rotation task. In other words, the results revealed an asymmetric learning transfer between tasks, which suggests that spatial representations are hierarchically organized. Specifically, the results indicate that the viewer-rotation task engaged allocentric representations and egocentric representations, whereas the object-rotation task engaged only egocentric representations.