Spatial Cognition and Computation 1: 381–397, 1999.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
“Could you hand me those keys on the right?”
Disentangling spatial reference frames using different
HOLLY A. TAYLOR
, SUSAN J. NAYLOR
, ROBERT R. FAUST
PHILLIP J. HOLCOMB
Research Building, Tufts University, 490 Boston Ave., Medford, MA 02155, USA;
and Women’s Hospital (
author for correspondence, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Abstract. Spatial descriptions frequently contain ambiguities because they can be interpreted
using more than one reference frame. How do people handle such ambiguities? Previous work
suggests either serial choice of reference frames or multiple activation of available frames.
While behavioral evidence shows mixed support for these positions, a technique of cognitive
neuroscience may provide additional insight. The present research examined spatial descrip-
tion processing using an electrophysiological measure, event-related potentials (ERPs). ERP’s
ﬁne-grained temporal resolution allows examination of cognitive processes as they unfold. A
second behavioral study provides comparison results. This initial study indicated that spatial
description comprehension relates to semantic integration. Given this interpretation, data also
suggested multiple frame activation with then primary selection of the intrinsic reference
frame. Results are discussed in a framework of comparing methodological techniques.
Key words: event-related potentials (ERPs), methodological comparison, object-centered
processing, reference frames, spatial ambiguity, viewer-centered processing
In responding to the query, “could you hand me those keys on the right?”
an individual may look in several places before ﬁnding the keys. Why does
this seemingly straightforward question result in a search rather than imme-
diate location of the keys? The answer lies in the ambiguity inherent in the
spatial description. The question cannot be interpreted without a reference
frame, but more than one frame exists. Additionally, as is frequently the case,
the reference frame is not speciﬁed. What cognitive processes ensue in the
face of spatially ambiguous requests? Researchers in the constituent ﬁelds of
cognitive science have undertaken issues related to this question. Deﬁnitive
answers, however, have been elusive. The present research applies a technique
of cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials (ERPs) to this question.