That’s where this all got started

In the spring of 2013, I’d just finished my research post-hoc experience at Laboratory of Cognitive Science and Immersive Virtual Reality of the Department of Psychology of the Second University of Naples (Italy) and I was looking for a job. While navigating on the internet I bumped into the research funding scheme of the European Community “ Marie Curie”(https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/h2020-section/marie-sklodowska-curie-actions). I read through all the documents, the posts in scientific blogs, and I also asked around for opinions from colleagues that had already applied for it. The application seemed quite challenging but there were several pluses. First a good salary, second the opportunity to choose an excellent research center outside my own country, third the possibility to get a very good scientific training. In particular I was interested into gaining competence in neuroimaging, especially with fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). So I came up with a winning idea in the field of spatial cognition and the high score obtained for the project (98.5/100) allowed me to live an amazing research experience at the Department of Experimental Psychology of Utrecht University and at University Medical Center of Utrecht (The Netherlands). The project MapSpace started in June 2014 and in two years I’ve carried out several behavioural and neuroimaging experiments.

The project: in everyday life we use at least two kinds of spatial information to encode and memorize locations of elements in the environment: abstract and invariant (such as right/left, above/below) and metric and concrete (such as 10 cm from me). This spatial information can be encoded according to the body (egocentric representations) and/or according to external elements (allocentric representations). For example: the post-office is on the right of the bank at 300 meters from your house, or the chair is at 30 cm from you or it is on your right. The aim of this project was to explore how people use these spatial representations and verify if their use was influenced by the characteristics of the task. So, we asked participants to memorize 3D objects and 2D figures and once the objects/figures were removed we asked them to indicate the object/figure associated with a specific location or the location associated with a specific object/figure.

Results showed that participants were more accurate when they had to judge objects/figures’ metric locations according to their body particularly when 3D objects and an immediate answer was required. Instead, when participants were asked to answer after 5 seconds and 2D figures were used participants improved their judgments about the position of a specific figure in relations another one.