Frames of reference and categorical/coordinate spatial relations in a “what was where” task

Francesco Ruotolo*, Tina Iachini, Gennaro Ruggiero, Ineke J. M. van der Ham, Albert Postma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The aim of this study was to explore how people use egocentric (i.e., with respect to their body) and allocentric (i.e., with respect to another element in the environment) references in combination with coordinate (metric) or categorical (abstract) spatial information to identify a target element. Participants were asked to memorize triads of 3D objects or 2D figures, and immediately or after a delay of 5 s, they had to verbally indicate what was the object/figure: (1) closest/farthest to them (egocentric coordinate task); (2) on their right/left (egocentric categorical task); (3) closest/farthest to another object/figure (allocentric coordinate task); (4) on the right/left of another object/figure (allocentric categorical task). Results showed that the use of 2D figures favored categorical judgments over the coordinate ones with either an egocentric or an allocentric reference frame, whereas the use of 3D objects specifically favored egocentric coordinate judgments rather than the allocentric ones. Furthermore, egocentric judgments were more accurate than allocentric judgments when the response was Immediate rather than delayed and 3D objects rather than 2D figures were used. This pattern of results is discussed in the light of the functional roles attributed to the frames of reference and spatial relations by relevant theories of visuospatial processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2687-2696
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016


  • Categorical/coordinate spatial relations
  • Egocentric/allocentric frames of reference
  • Ventral stream
  • Verbal response


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