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Ben Pitt. Flexible frameworks for spatial memory and language

- BCBL zoom room 2 only (online talk)

What: Flexible frameworks for spatial memory and language

Where:  zoom room 2. (If you would like to attend to this meeting reserve at

Who: Ben Pitt. PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, US

When:  Thursday,  November 10th, 4 PM

The physical properties of space may be universal, but the way people conceptualize space is variable. In some groups, people tend to use egocentric space (e.g. left, right) to encode the locations of objects, while in other groups, people encode the same spatial scene using allocentric space (e.g. upriver, downriver). These different spatial frames of reference (FoRs) characterize the way people think and talk about spatial relations and shape various non-spatial conceptual domains like time and number. Patterns of spatial language and spatial memory tend to covary across groups, but the root causes of this variation are unclear. To clarify this cognitive and linguistic diversity, we tested FoR use in samples of US children and adult members of an indigenous Amazonian group – the Tsimane'. Both groups used different FoRs on different spatial axes, according to known differences in perceptual discriminability: On the lateral axis, where egocentric (i.e. left-right) discrimination is difficult, participants' spatial behavior and language was predominantly allocentric; on the sagittal axis, where egocentric (i.e. front-back) discrimination is relatively easy, they were predominantly egocentric. These findings challenge the longstanding assumption that each language group can be characterized by a predominant spatial frame of reference. Rather, both spatial memory and language can differ categorically across axes, even within the same individual. I suggest that differences in spatial discrimination can explain (co)variation in spatial memory and language across cultures, between individuals, and over development.