Terrain slope can be used to encode the location of a goal. However, this directional information may be encoded using a conceptual north (i.e., invariantly with respect to the environment), or in an observer-relative fashion (i.e., varying depending on the direction one faces when learning the goal). This study examines which representation is used, whether the sensory modality in which slope is encoded (visual, kinaesthetic, or both) influences representations, and whether use of slope varies for men and women. In a square room, with a sloped floor explicitly pointed out as the only useful cue, participants encoded the corner in which a goal was hidden. Without direct sensory access to slope cues, participants used a dial to point to the goal. For each trial, the goal was hidden uphill or downhill, and the participants were informed whether they faced uphill or downhill when pointing. In support of observer-relative representations, participants pointed more accurately and quickly when facing concordantly with the hiding position. There was no effect of sensory modality, providing support for functional equivalence. Sex did not interact with the findings on modality or reference frame, but spatial measures correlated with success on the slope task differently for each sex.
Weisberg, Steven M.; Nardi, Daniele; Newcombe, Nora S.; and Shipley, Thomas F., "Up by Upwest: Is Slope like North?" (2014). Faculty Research and Creative Activity. 22.