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Distorted mental spatial representation of multi-level buildings - Humans are biased towards equilateral shapes of height and width.

Sci Rep. 2019 Oct 21;9(1):15046. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-50992-6.

Authors/Editors: Ertl M, Klaus M, Brandt T, Dieterich M, Mast FW.
Publication Date: 2019



A distorted model of a familiar multi-level building with a systematic overestimation of the height was demonstrated earlier in psychophysical and real world navigational tasks. In the current study we further investigated this phenomenon with a tablet-based application. Participants were asked to adjust height and width of the presented buildings to best match their memory of the dimensional ratio. The estimation errors between adjusted and true height-width ratios were analyzed. Additionally, familiarity with respect to in- and outside of the building as well as demographic data were acquired. A total of 142 subjects aged 21 to 90 years from the cities of Bern and Munich were tested. Major results were: (1) a median overestimation of the height of the multi-level buildings of 11%; (2) estimation errors were significantly less if the particular building was unknown to participants; (3) in contrast, the height of tower-like buildings was underestimated; (4) the height of long, flat shaped buildings was overestimated. (5) Further features, such as the architectonical complexity were critical. Overall, our internal models of large multi-level buildings are distorted due to multiple factors including geometric features and memory effects demonstrating that such individual models are not rigid but plastic with consequences for spatial orientation and navigation

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