Which way is up? Grounded mental representations of space

Dunn, Benjamin Mark (2016) Which way is up? Grounded mental representations of space. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

Processing language is postulated to involve a mental simulation, or re-enactment of perceptual, motor, and introspective states that were acquired experientially (Barsalou, 1999, 2008). One such aspect that is mentally simulated during processing of certain concepts is spatial location. For example, upon processing the word “moon” the prominent spatial location of the concept (e.g. ‘upward’) is mentally simulated.

In six eye-tracking experiments, we investigate how mental simulations of spatial location affect processing. We first address a conflict in previous literature whereby processing is shown to be impacted in both a facilitatory and inhibitory way. Two of our experiments showed that mental simulations of spatial association facilitate saccades launched toward compatible locations; however, a third experiment showed an inhibitory effect on saccades launched towards incompatible locations. We investigated these differences with further experiments, which led us to conclude that the nature of the effect (facilitatory or inhibitory) is dependent on the demands of the task and, in fitting with the theory of Grounded Cognition (Barsalou, 2008), that mental simulations impact processing in a dynamic way.

Three further experiments explored the nature of verticality – specifically, whether ‘up’ is perceived as away from gravity, or above our head. Using similar eye-tracking methods, and by manipulating the position of participants, we were able to dissociate these two possible standpoints. The results showed that mental simulations of spatial location facilitated saccades to compatible locations, but only when verticality was dissociated from gravity (i.e. ‘up’ was above the participant’s head). We conclude that this is not due to an ‘embodied’ mental simulation, but rather a result of heavily ingrained visuo-motor association between vertical space and eye movements.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology
Supervisor's Name: Scheepers, Dr. Christoph
Date of Award: 2016
Depositing User: Dr Benjamin Dunn
Unique ID: glathesis:2016-7460
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 05 Jul 2016 12:55
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2016 12:38
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/7460

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