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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - Functional Significance of Visuospatial Representations


Mental spaces are not unitary. Rather, people conceive of different spaces differently, depending on the functions they serve. Four such spaces are considered here. The space of the body subserves proprioception and action; it is divided by body parts, with perceptually salient and functionally significant parts more accessible than others. The space around the body subserves immediate perception and action; it is conceived of in three dimensions in terms of relations of objects to the six sides of the body: front/back, head/feet, left/right. The space of navigation subserves that; it is constructed in memory from multimodal pieces, typically as a plane. The reconstruction generates systematic errors. The space of external representations, of pictures, maps, charts, and diagrams, serves as cognitive aids to memory and information processing. To serve those ends, graphics schematize and may distort information.

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Suggestions for Further Reading

On bodies, events, and brain:

Meltzoff, A., & Prinz, W. (Editors). The imitative mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

On cognitive maps:

Kitchin, R., & Freundschuh, S. M. (Editors). (2000). Levels and structure of cognitive mapping. In Cognitive mapping: Past, present and future. London: Routledge.

On navigation:

Golledge, R. (Editor). Cognitive mapping and spatial behavior. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press

On language and space:

Bloom, P., Peterson, M. P., Nadel, L., & Garrett, M. (Editors). Language and space. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

On metaphoric space

Gattis, M. (Editor). (2001). Spatial schemas in abstract thought. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press


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