From horizontal to vertical: Human spatial representations in three-dimensional navigation

  • Author / Creator
    Du, Yu
  • Previous research has provided a lot of evidence about spatial navigation on 2D surfaces whereas how animals represent space in 3D navigation involving vertical information is much less often investigated (Jeffery, Jovalekic, Verriotis, & Hayman, 2013; Jeffery, Wilson, Casali, & Hayman, 2015). The current dissertation work aims to investigate humans’ memory of localization and their heading updating in 3D navigation. In Chapter 1, I first review the previous research about these two topics (3D location memory and 3D heading) and briefly discuss the individual difference by evolutionary and individual histories. Chapter 2 presents Study 1 which examined 3D location memory and Chapter 3 presents Study 2 which examined 3D heading representation in spatial navigation. Both studies were conducted in immersive virtual reality environments. Chapter 4 summarizes the findings in the two studies and discusses the general cognitive mechanisms and principles in 3D navigation implied by the two studies. Study 1 presented in Chapter 2 investigated whether humans’ localization is more variable vertically than horizontally in different locomotion modes. Participants localized targets on a vertical wall via self-locomotion. One group of participants flew three-dimensionally along their viewing direction towards the target (flying group). The second group only locomoted on the floor and the wall along the projection of the viewing direction onto the current travelling surface (climbing group). The third group pressed a button to be teleported from the floor to the wall and then locomoted on the wall (teleportation group). Both the flying and the climbing groups showed a horizontal advantage of location memory whereas the teleportation group showed a vertical advantage. Examining the trajectories of the participants in the three groups indicate a vertical advantage of locomotion on a vertical surface. The results suggest that locomotion mode does not account for the horizontal advantage for the surface-travelling iii animals. Therefore, the horizontal advantage is more likely to be species-specific rather than locomotion-mode specific. Study 2 in Chapter 3 investigated whether humans can spontaneously extend their allocentric heading on the ground when locomoting to walls and the ceiling. Participants first learned a layout of objects on the ground. In testing phases, initially facing south (or north), they navigated to testing planes: south (or north) walls with the testing heading of Up or the ceiling with the testing heading of North (or South). They then either replaced the objects on that plane or did a Judgement of Relative Direction task (JRD task, “imagine standing at object A, facing B, point to C”) with imagined headings of south and north. The results from the object placement task showed that the participants more likely treated Up on two opposite walls, and the same direction (e.g., North) on the ceiling and on the ground as the same heading. Only a small portion of participants (about 20%) treated the same directions on the ground and on the ceiling as two opposite headings, indicating that they extended their allocentric heading through pitch rotations. The results of the JRD task showed that only these “extension” participants showed a reversed sensorimotor alignment effect, better performance when the imagined facing direction on the ground and physical facing direction on the ceiling were opposite than when they were the same. These results indicate that on a behavioral level, only a small portion of humans can spontaneously represent 3D allocentric headings (i.e., pitch) while most humans only represent 3D allocentric directions (e.g., North, Up). Therefore, the toroidal (extension) model proposed by findings in bats and rats (Finkelstein et al., 2015; Page et al., 2018; Taube et al., 2013) may not be applicable to humans. Supplemental material related to this thesis is available at

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  • Graduation date
    Fall 2018
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
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