Reorienting our investigations of Memory, Identity and Place: Exploring the ‘Grammar’ of Memory-Place
Here are some quick thoughts for moving forward in a different way.
I’ve recently come across some psychological literature that struck some new ideas and might help us reorient the topic and method of our investigations. (McNamara 1991; Tversky 1991; Franklin, Henkel et al. 1995; Watson 1996; Rinck, Hähnel et al. 1997; Colle and Reid 2000; Kalakoski and Saariluoma 2001; Colle and Reid 2003; Tversky 2003; Valiquette, McNamara et al. 2003; Sun, Chan et al. 2004; Radvansky and Copeland 2006)
These ideas have struck me in relation to my paper on architecture as the place of memory, distributed earlier on, where I drew on Merleau-Ponty on memory and passivity, to suggest that architectural spaces might harbour and cultivate memory because of the way they intersect with and support our cultivation of habits of movement and engagement with things. Briefly, the thought I develop there is that places, buildings and built places are like outer habits that we incorporate into our ways of moving, so that when we move in places, those habits are at play, in such a way that the past of habit is there at work in our bodily being, and the past can become explicit/express in our playing on those habits. The past then comes into view, into play, and is remembered in the ways that Proust, e.g., so powerfully describes.
What the psychological literature suggests is that remembered place, and place as supporting memory (what I’ll call memory-place) has what I’m thinking of as a ‘grammar’ that likely is linked to our moving bodies, i.e. to the ways that our bodies move in and negotiate place in the first place.
E.g., place as we remember it and place as it harbours memory is not a smooth Euclidean space, it is structured, e.g., by rooms. But here ‘room’ is not a physically/ objectively/ visually definable entity, it has to do with what counts for us as a divide between one room and another (e.g., a narrow doorway might count as dividing a space into two rooms, whereas a very broad one might not). So far in what I’ve looked at, the main unit suggested re the grammar of memory-place is the room, but its also the case that they way the grammar comes into play has to do with left-right, our movement, etc. See below for a listing of the literature I’m talking about, including my research notes re. the relevance to our project.
What I’m thinking is that there are finer grained aspects to the grammar of memory place and much more work to be done teasing it out. This, I think, we could start working on. But this would shift our methodological thrust re. the experiment. So far, maybe due to my MP inspired strategies, we’ve been thinking about manipulating our motor/perceptual relation to the surround to probe how that comes into play in relation to memory-place issues. But lets suppose it does come into play, that motor/perceptual/habitual relations inform what’s at issue in remembering places and remembering by way of being in places. We want to get insight into this. We could just observe what goes on in relation to differently configured places to tease out the grammar of memory-place, and thence get insight into the motor/perceptual/habitual issues.
That is, instead of varying our motor/perceptual engagement (by manipulating vision/sound), let’s leave that intact and vary the structure of the places in which participants move, so that maybe, e.g., we could find out what really counts as a room, and get some insight into how rooms matter to memory-place. We could then try and discern finer scale structures: what’s the basic unit of place as supporting memory? The smallest? What’s salient in defining such units? (This is sort of analogous to tracing what’s salient in a phoneme or a unit of meaning.) And maybe let’s do that by training participants in phenomenological description, so we put them into a situations that heightens their descriptive attunement, and try and get insight into the grammar from their descriptions.
E.g., we’d set up differently structured environments and get people to notice how it is easier/harder to remember things in them. What are the boundaries of remembering things.
We could vary environments by doing real environments or going virtual (see the room effect paper) or quasi-virtual, say. By quasi-virtual I’m inspired by an artwork now at the Contemporain, Manglano-Ovalle’s film installation Le Baiser/The Kiss. This actually explores relations between inside and outside of rooms and others things in quite an interesting way. But it’s more the medium I’m interested in here: projecting moving images onto (I think it’s) a large ground glass screen hanging from the ceiling, with a metal border floating in space to delineate a building/room like space. The thing I found interesting re our work is that this set up gave a really palpable feeling of being in/around/engaged in the space projected on the screen. Maybe it’s the large format, the brightness, the delineation of a space containing you and the screen, I don’t know… But maybe you could project a space onto such a screen, and ask people to learn the layout of things in it, and then vary the structure of that space to hone in on the grammar. Of course, though, you want to invite moving engagement.
These are just first thoughts, but I think the idea of a grammar of memory place is powerful here, and that it is related to/informed by the moving body…discerning this I think might help us get insight into what goes into the memory-place relation.
The article on the room effect might get juices flowing as to ideas.
I do think we should work from sort of hypothesis, like movement matters, or memory-place has a grammer, and use that to constrain our ideas about the ‘experiment’.
Two further comments:
First: Maybe certain effects in Altzheimers are not due to a loss of memory, but to some habitual memory/place relations being so powerful that other kinds of recall are blocked. I put the thing in the ‘wrong place’ not because I forget where it is supposed to go, but because this place so powerfully calls upon me to do such and such in it with this thing, that it overrides other layerings of memory. (That might in fact open up an experiment: construct an environment that make non-alzheimer participants forget where they are going or where to put things, by calling up ‘wrong’ habits…)
Second: A powerful example of a memory-place phenomenon and its bodily aspects. I go back to visit my parents and the house I grew up in, remembering on the way that I had recently found out that my LP set of La Monte Young’s The Well Tuned Piano turns out to probably be worth a thousand bucks now, for insane capitalistic reasons. So when I arrive, after settling in, I go to check to see if the La Monte Young is still there in the record cabinet. A few weeks before all this, I had been trying to remember the name and conductor of a record I had particularly liked as a kid/teen. I remembered that it was Renaissance music, lots of crunchy krumhorns and the like, and a bit wild, and I also remembered that it had served as a soundtrack for a bicycling movie (which I had not seen). But I couldn’t remember the name or conductor for the life of me, although I knew it was a famous guy in early music. So now, I crouch down to look for the La Monte Young, and, without even having had the whole “I can’t remember the name of the Renaissance music record” thing in mind, the name just hits me, in kind of an overwhelming way: David Munrow. The record is called Renaissance Suite. NB I didn’t even touch the record, or check whether it was there. The memory seemed to be there in crouching before the record cabinet. NB the bicycling movie is called La Course en Tete', about Eddie Merckx.
Abstract: Explored the phenomenon called the room effect, how people rapidly learn the spatial layout of the interior of rooms when they navigate through a building to perform everyday tasks in a simulated environment. Three experiments using 48 university students showed that the room effect did not depend on the categorical or functional utilization of rooms or on the exploration routes taken. Although there was a strong effect of whether or not the objects in the rooms all came from the same category or not, this object organization effect was independent of the room effect. Second, the room effect was just as strong when objects in different rooms were visited successively as it was when all objects in a room were visited before moving to the next room. The results are difficult to explain from the landmark-route-survey model or other extant explanations. A characteristic enclosure framework explanation is proposed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2008 APA, all rights reserved)
Research Notes: Summary of contents for Memory Place group by DM: focuses on the "room effect," which is such that subjects who are given time to familiarize themselves with various objects in various rooms have better memory/knowledge of relative location of objects *within* a room, than across rooms. E.g., after learning where objects are in a room, imagine yourself in front of the desk and indicate the direction of an object relative to the desk; performance is better when the object is in the same room, vs. in another room. Interestingly, the effect persists when rooms are not defined/divided by visually opaque walls, but by masking tape, e.g., by a more symbolic division. 3 experiments test hypotheses about the basis of the room effect, and the experimenters argue that none of the hypotheses work: 1) magnitude of the room effect does not depend on objects in the room, which speaks against the hypothesis that objects in a given room (office vs. kitchen, say) tend to group according to categories, which might help with memorizing their relative locations; 2) the hypotheses that the room effect is due to the exploration route and temporal grouping of objects (I first encountered this group of things, and then this other one, and the first group happened to be in the first room, so things temporally encountered together are better remembered together) is not supported; 3) it might also be that memorial grouping of objects might be due to their interrelation around subtasks given to subjects in each room, but this hypothesis wasn't supported either.
Abstract: Understanding how spatial knowledge is acquired is important for spatial navigation and for improving the design of 3-D perspective interfaces. Configural spatial knowledge of object locations inside rooms is learned rapidly and easily (Colle & Reid, 1998), possibly because rooms afford local viewing in which objects are directly viewed or, alternatively, because of their structural features. The local viewing hypothesis predicts that the layout of objects outside of rooms also should be rapidly acquired when walls are removed and rooms are sufficiently close that participants can directly view and identify objects. It was evaluated using pointing and sketch map measures of configural knowledge with and without walls by varying distance, lighting levels, and observation instructions. Although within-room spatial knowledge was uniformly good, local viewing was not sufficient for improving spatial knowledge of objects in different rooms. Implications for navigation and 3-D interface design are discussed. Actual or potential applications of this research include the design of user interfaces, especially interfaces with 3-D displays. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract)
Abstract: Three experiments examined the relative sizes and resolutions of front, back, left, and right around oneself. Exp 1 (n=41) assessed the region sizes associated with front, back, right, and left. Exp 2 (n=22) examined memory for the precise relative position of an object as a function of the region in which it was originally placed. In Exp 3 (n=38) Ss viewed objects placed in various positions around themselves and described their directions so that another S could duplicate the position of the objects. Front, argued to be the most important horizontal region, was found to be (1) largest, (2) recalled with the greatest precision, and (3) described with the greatest degree of detail. The results support and extend the spatial framework analysis of representation of surrounding space (N. Franklin and B. Tversky; see record 1990-27340-001). (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)
Research Notes: Summary of contents for Memory Place group by DM: The abstract nicely summarizes the point: space as we encounter it is not isotropic but reflects structure of our moving body; and this, and the salience of this grammar (front vs. back, say) is reflected in memorial characteristics of remembered space.
Abstract: In this paper, we explore the nature of taxi drivers' serial recall of street names. The main question is whether the memory of verbal material benefits from the possibility of using visuospatial associations and knowledge concerning large-scale environment. In two experiments, expert taxi drivers' recall of street names was superior to that of control groups. In Experiment 1, experts' superiority of memory was greater when the street names reflected a visuospatially continuous route than when the street names were located along a straight line across the map without spatial continuity or were presented in random order. In Experiment 2, the expert taxi drivers recalled spatially continuously organized lists much better than they recalled lists of street names belonging to the same semantic category or lists presented in alphabetical order. This result also suggests that interitem associations, which are based on spatial co-occurrence, are efficient in comparison with other mnemonics.
Research Notes: Summary of contents for Memory Place group by DM: suggests support for method of loci and point that relation of places supports memory, by indicating that taxi drivers are better able to remember a list of streets when it reflects the straighline order of actual streets they navigate.
Abstract: (from the chapter) summarize and evaluate research that speaks to how interobject spatial relations are represented in long-term memory / discuss a number of methodological issues, in particular, . . . the use of certain tasks to investigate spatial memories / review a number of studies that have looked at the structure of spatial memories / [discuss] two possible models consistent with the available data and suggest ways to distinguish between the models (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved) (chapter)
Summary of contents for Memory Place group by DM: McNamara runs a Spatial Memory and Navigation Lab, http://sitemason.vanderbilt.edu/mcnamaralab/mcnamaralab/home
, that seems to do interest work, and he seems to be a player in the area. This article contributes a key point: that space is remembered/represented not as an isotropic, Euclidean space, but as hierarchically structured, as e.g., rooms/places nested within one another. This would seem to be a key point for us, since it powerfully suggests a grammar of remembered space, vs. an algorithm or abstract formula (to try and capture the point linguistically). That's to say that there is a marker of our bodily being in places in our memory of places (and thence, I'd suspect, in place as supporting/harbouring memory) insofar as we can argue (and I bet we can) that the hierarchy points back to our body, i.e., it's in relation to the way that we move that certain hierarchical orderings come into play. Put otherwise: if remembered space were characterized by an isotropic, Euclidean structure/metric, then it would be a space remembered by/for a Cartesian mind; but it's not; we could imagine that a bird or giant would have a differently structured/scaled hierarchical ordering of remembered place, e.g., rooms might not matter to the bird in the same way.
Abstract: We investigated the ability of people to retrieve information about objects as they moved through rooms in a virtual space. People were probed with object names that were either associated with the person (i.e., carried) or dissociated from the person (i.e., just set down). Also, people either did or did not shift spatial regions (i.e., go to a new room). Information about objects was less accessible when the objects were dissociated from the person. Furthermore, information about an object was also less available when there was a spatial shift. However, the spatial shift had a larger effect on memory for the currently associated object. These data are interpreted as being more supportive of a situation model explanation, following on work using narratives and film. Simpler memory-based accounts that do not take into account the context in which a person is embedded cannot adequately account for the results.
Research Notes: Summary of contents for Memory Place group by DM: the title of this nicely captures the relevance of this article to the MIP group. It once again indicates that a basic unit of the memory-place nexus is a room, that the grammar of placed memory involve rooms. The basic result is people more easily forget something if it is in a room that they have left, and more easily remember something if they are in the same room as it; specifically, the claim is that leaving a room makes information about that room less available. Also might suggest that this due to function interaction between the person and the thing in the room, p 1154. Explores these issues in terms of concept of "situational model," a model of situations in which we find ourselves.
Abstract: The authors investigated the metrics of spatial distance represented in situation models of narratives. In 3 experiments, a spatial gradient of accessibility in situation models was observed: The accessibility of objects contained in the situation model decreased with increasing spatial distance between the object and the reader's focus of attention. The first 2 experiments demonstrated that this effect of spatial distance was purely categorical rather than Euclidean: Accessibility depended on the number of rooms located between the object and the focus of attention, not on the size of the rooms. Experiment 3 revealed, however, that participants were able to use information about Euclidean distance in a secondary task when necessary. The implications of these results for theories of narrative comprehension and hierarchical versus nonhierarchical theories of spatial memory are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract)
Research Notes: Summary of contents for Memory Place group by DM: Again suggests that memory-place has a grammar informed by body-world movement: it takes longer to remember objects as you move farther away from them, but the measure of farther away is not Euclidian, it is the number of rooms. And "rooms" here is symbolic, not objective: what counts as a room isn't reducible to physical barriers, but conventions/symbols for where one room begins and another ends.
Abstract: In this study, we examined the orientation dependency of spatial representations following various learning conditions. We assessed the spatial representations of human participants after they had learned a complex spatial layout via map learning, via navigating within a real environment, or via navigating through a virtual simulation of that environment. Performances were compared between conditions involving (1) multiple- versus single-body orientation, (2) active versus passive learning, and (3) high versus low levels of proprioceptive information. Following learning, the participants were required to produce directional judgments to target landmarks. Results showed that the participants developed orientation-specific spatial representations following map learning and passive learning, as indicated by better performance when tested from the initial learning orientation. These results suggest that neither the number of vantage points nor the level of proprioceptive information experienced are determining factors; rather, it is the active aspect of direct navigation that leads to the development of orientation-free representations. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract)
Research Notes: Summary of contents for Memory Place group by DM: suggests that moving yourself actively is a factor in navigating space, specifically in learning to navigate in ways that are orientation indepdent, ie. free of the "alignment effect" which is such that you are better able to navigate a layour learned from a 2d map, if when you learn, your body's relation to real space is in alignment with the 2d map from which you are learning, you are facing the same way as your representation in the map.
Abstract: (from the chapter) developed two separate but related experimental paradigms to investigate spatial mental models constructed from text / in the first paradigm, we vary characteristics of the descriptions and observe the consequent mental models / in the second paradigm, we examine in great detail the spatial characteristics of a particular but very common situation, the one people are in most of the time, of having objects at different places around them (chapter)
[address] the issue of the generality and perspective of spatial mental models constructed from different text perspectives / investigate representation and access of particular spatial relations from particular perspectives (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved) (chapter)
Abstract: Human activity takes place in space. To act effectively, people need mental representations of space. People's mental representations of space differ from space as conceived of by physicists, geometers, and cartographers. Mental representations of space are constructions based on elements, the things in space, and the spatial relations among them relative to a reference frame. People act in different spaces depending on the task at hand. The spaces considered here are the space of the body, the space around the body, the space of navigation, and the space of graphics. Different elements and spatial relations are central for functioning in the different spaces, yielding different mental representations. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract)
Abstract: In three experiments with undergraduate Ss, we examined the effects of locomotion and incidental learning on the formation of spatial memories. Participants learned the locations of objects in a room and then made judgments of relative direction, using their memories (e.g., "Imagine you are standing at the clock, facing the jar. Point to the book"). The experiments manipulated the number of headings experienced, the amount of interaction with the objects, and whether the participants were informed that their memories of the layout would be tested. When participants were required to maintain a constant body orientation during learning (Exp 1, with 24 Ss), they represented the layout in terms of a single reference direction parallel to that orientation. When they were allowed to move freely in the room (Exp 2, with 25 Ss), they seemed to use two orthogonal reference axes aligned with the walls of the enclosing room. Extensive movement under incidental learning conditions (Exp 3, with 30 Ss) yielded a mixture of these two encoding strategies across participants. There was no evidence that locomotion, interaction with objects, or incidental learning led to the formation of spatial memories that differed from those formed from static viewing. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)
Research Notes: Summary of contents for Memory Place group by DM: suggests way we move in interacting with surrounds affects way we remember things in those surrounds
Abstract: Line drawings were presented in either a spatial or a nonspatial format. Subjects recalled each of four sets of 24 items in serial order. Amount recalled in the correct serial order and sequencing errors were scored. In Experiment 1 items appeared either in consecutive locations of a matrix or in one central location. Subjects who saw the items in different locations made fewer sequencing errors than those who saw each item in a central location, but serial recall levels for these two conditions did not differ. When items appeared in nonconsecutive locations in Experiment 2, the advantage of the spatial presentation on sequencing errors disappeared. Experiment 3 included conditions in which both the consecutive and nonconsecutive spatial formats were paired with retrieval cues that either did or did not indicate the sequence of locations in which the items had appeared. Spatial imagery aided sequencing when, and only when, the order of locations in which the stimuli appeared could be reconstructed at retrieval.
Research Notes: Summary of contents for Memory Place group by DM: suggests that a locatedness of places over and above visual contents that would identify places matters to memory.