Two classes of space define our everyday experience within our surrounding environment:
vista spaces, such as rooms or streets which can be perceived from one vantage point,
and environmental spaces, for example, buildings and towns which are grasped from
multiple views acquired during locomotion. However, theories of spatial representations
often treat both spaces as equal. The present experiments show that this assumption
cannot be upheld. Participants learned exactly the same layout of objects either within
a single room or spread across multiple corridors. By utilizing a pointing and a placement
task we tested the acquired configurational memory. In Experiment 1 retrieving memory
of the object layout acquired in environmental space was affected by the distance
of the traveled path and the order in which the objects were learned. In contrast,
memory retrieval of objects learned in vista space was not bound to distance and relied
on different ordering schemes (e.g., along the layout structure). Furthermore, spatial
memory of both spaces differed with respect to the employed reference frame orientation.
Environmental space memory was organized along the learning experience rather than
layout intrinsic structure. In Experiment 2 participants memorized the object layout
presented within the vista space room of Experiment 1 while the learning procedure
emulated environmental space learning (movement, successive object presentation).
Neither factor rendered similar results as found in environmental space learning.
This shows that memory differences between vista and environmental space originated
mainly from the spatial compartmentalization which was unique to environmental space
learning. Our results suggest that transferring conclusions from findings obtained
in vista space to environmental spaces and vice versa should be made with caution.