Research Area

Individual differences in Spatial memory

Humans and other animals move through their environments in order to get to places with food or shelter and other resources; they also have to avoid threats and dangers such as predators, assaults and other risk factors. It appears clear that spatial navigation is crucial in everyday life. This ability is influenced by individual variables (i.e., gender, age and familiarity), differences in environmental features (presence and density of landmarks, regularity of street configuration) and differences in types of knowledge acquisition (real navigation vs. map learning vs. virtual reality learning). The Lab analyse these topics to explore individual differences in moving through the environment.

Web Search

Most people in the Western world now have a computer with Internet access at home and many of them use the computer and search engines daily both at home and at work. Within this population, different age groups and habits can be identified: teenagers and young adults of the 21st century, who were born and grew up with computers and the Internet, are defined by Prensky as “Native Digital”; conversely, older people, who began to use computers for work and other necessities, are called “Digital Immigrant”. Due to this widespread use of the computer, it seems useful, in the field of computer science, to understand which factors affect computer users’ behaviour during computer interaction. Recently, many studies have investigated the role of individual and cognitive differences during Web navigation and Web searching. The Literature has tried to identify how internal factors, such as computer expertise or individual characteristics, and external factors, like Web browser features, may influence Web searching behaviour. The laboratory has an interest in developing research in this area.

Sensorimotor representation of self and others in space in normal and clinical population

The Personal Space (PS) has been defined as the space surrounding the body, where physical interactions with elements of the environment or other people take place. “There are too many people in this square, I do not see any escape routes ... I want to get out of here!!!” exclaims a person with agoraphobia. Environmental navigation is a complex process that involves acquiring information and locating oneself with respect to a landmark or to an absolute coordinate system. Indeed, to orient yourself and reach a destination, you have to follow some steps: (a) determine self-location and estimate goal location; (b) select routes from the starting point to a target destination; (c) monitor the route; and (d) recognize the target. This ability depends on the integration of numerous cognitive functions. The aim of the Lab is to analyse how people with clinical disorders acquire and represent spatial information in relation to him/her-self and others.

The role of external factors in the cognitive map: The Emotional Environments

The ability to orient in the environment is crucial for human beings. There is a wide individual difference in this ability, due to several internal and/or external factors. Specifically, the role of landmarks can be defined in terms of valence (positive/pleasant vs. negative/unpleasant) and arousal (activating/excited vs. deactivating/calm) has only recently been investigated, demonstrating that positive/negative emotions increasing landmark’s salience improve performance in navigational memory tasks. The same could be do considering the whole environment. The aim of the Lab is to analyse the effect of positive and negative landmarks and/or environments in mental representation of the environment (cognitive map).

Environmental memory in witness interview

In murder, the victim’s body could be hidden from investigators and the perpetrator is willing to co-operate by providing information about the location of the body. However, the perpetrator may be unable to accurately recollect the location of the victim’s body because of problems with memory. In these cases, it is often only the suspect that holds the information that will lead to the successful retrieval of the victim’s remains and the investigative interview strategy chosen by the investigator becomes particularly important (Ryan, Westera, Kebbell, Milne & Harrison, 2016). In other cases, people might witness cryminous events while they are doing something else and then have to remember visual and spatial elements to help investigators reconstruct the case. The aim of the Lab is to analyse situations in which memory has the best recall of environmental elements and the people involved according to the theoretical perspective of embodied cognition.

 The Virtual Reality is used across all research topics.

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