Spatial Cognition and Computation 1: 349–363, 1999.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
A uniform anthropomorphological approach to the
human conception of dimensional relations
University of Education at Heidelberg, Germany
Abstract. Within psycholinguistics, the dimensional conception of space is described through
a variety of theoretical constructs, e.g., frames of reference, perspectives, strategies, and
patterns. The objective of this paper is to introduce a uniform classiﬁcation of the alternatives
of dimensionally conceiving of object relations, derived from the functional and morpholo-
gical asymmetries of the human body which deﬁne an anthropomorphous Origo, and from
our ability to mentally project the Origo into positions and orientations other than we actu-
ally occupy. Particularly, the conception of dimensional relations on the ﬁrst horizontal line
is explained through the principle of perceptual accessibility of objects; this allows for the
uniform treatment of (almost) all conceptual alternatives from basic psychological principles.
Finally, some implications of this anthropomorphological view for the human cognition of
dimensional relations are discussed and underpinned with empirical results.
Key words: anthropomorphology, frames of reference, mental rotation, psycholinguistics,
spatial relations, spatial cognition
Frames of reference: Between spatial language and spatial cognition
Large parts of the research on the human conception of spatial relations
originate from the linguistic investigation of the variety of verbal expressions
that are suited to properly communicate about such relations. Therefore, the
issue of this paper will be derived from linguistic contexts: A rather frequent
goal of speakers is to verbally emphasize a particular place in order to point
their hearers’ attention in the right direction. Within a certain range of vari-
ation, however, such descriptions cannot simply be judged correct or false;
rather, their adequacy depends on the underlying spatial interpretation, or
conception, of the respective situation. Particularly with dimensional rela-
tions, most situations allow for more than one spatial conception. As long as
we rely on the assumption of an unambiguous relation between someone’s
production, or comprehension, of language and his or her cognition (a rela-
tion that may also reﬂect particular constraints of the language in use; cf.
Talmy 1983), we can infer that person’s cognitive conception of a spatial