The role of spatial boundaries in shaping long-term event representations

Aidan James Horner, J. A. Bisby, A Wang, K Bogus, N Burgess

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When remembering the past, we typically recall ‘events’ that are bounded in time and space. However, as we navigate our environment our senses receive a continuous stream of information. How do we create discrete long-term episodic memories from continuous input? Although previous research has provided evidence for a role of spatial boundaries in the online segmentation of our sensory experience within working memory, it is not known how this segmentation contributes to subsequent long-term episodic memory. Here we show that the presence of a spatial boundary at encoding (a doorway between two rooms) impairs participants’ later ability to remember the order that objects were presented in. A sequence of two objects presented in the same room in a virtual reality environment is more accurately remembered than a sequence of two objects presented in adjoining rooms. The results are captured by a simple model in which items are associated to a context representation that changes gradually over time, and changes more rapidly when crossing a spatial boundary. We therefore provide the first evidence that the structure of long-term episodic memory is shaped by the presence of a spatial boundary and provide constraints on the nature of the interaction between working memory and long-term memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-164
Number of pages14
Early online date10 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016

Bibliographical note

© 2016 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V.


  • Computational modelling
  • Episodic memory
  • Event segmentation
  • Spatial memory
  • Virtual reality

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