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Unravelling the mysteries of cognition

Visual and auditory cues in a complex context of space and time are instrumental in helping us find our way or locate objects. A series of experiments in this field has brought new information to the forefront.
Unravelling the mysteries of cognition
When we misplace our keys or look for a particular restaurant, we often have a hard time retracing our steps and remembering where an object is or how to get to a place. The EU-funded project 'Multisensory integration in the cognitive representation of space' (MULTISENSORYSPACE) investigated memory function in locating objects and places. The project conducted experiments to evaluate how people encode and recall the position and the identity of visual, auditory and tactile objects.

To begin with, MULTISENSORYSPACE looked at whether auditory localisation is independent of auditory recognition. It found an intriguing association between the two, concluding that features pertaining to the identity of sounds are automatically processed even when this is not required by the task. The project team also noted that information about sound location can be filtered off from the memory representation when it is not relevant.

Next, the team studied the relationship between touch and location, adapting methods used previously in visual and auditory contexts. It showed how people's memory functions in binding 'what' and 'where' to texture.

Another part of the project looked at visual and auditory processing during spatial navigation, i.e. in finding your way, through tests that use virtual, interactive 3D mazes. Interestingly, the team found that while auditory information can be used to navigate through a virtual environment, adding visual information does not contribute to performance.

Finally, the team conducted experiments that consider space and time in auditory and visual memory. Information about where and when events happened seem naturally linked to each other, but only few studies have investigated this association. The project investigated whether the location of items and their temporal order are jointly or independently encoded.

These experiments can be very useful in designing better spatial navigation tools in blindness, as well as for advancing neuropsychological rehabilitation strategies and diagnosis. They are also beneficial for exploring real and virtual multisensory spatial environments. The study is also set to enlighten the theoretical debate on cognitive representation of space.

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