Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Spatial Representation

The way in which space is represented in the brain. There are several competing models:

  1. Propositional Models: Consider space to be encoded in a propositional manner in the brain. Relations between objects, persons, and landmarks are described as propositions. For example, a book sitting on top of a desk is encoded as the linguistic proposition "book, desk (on top of)". The favored model among some philosophers, less favored by cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists.
  2. Analogue Models: Assume a relation of physical correspondence between the representation and the object being represented. That is to say, a square-shaped figure will excite a square-shaped region in the brain. Not widely favored by any group, because strict isomorphism is manifestly illogical (e.g., colors are not represented in color, and music is not represented as sounds in the brain).
  3. Topological Models: Posits circumscribed brain regions in which spatial representation is carried out. Hypothesises that lesions occurring within these regions would result in a representational loss limited to definite regions of space. Derives some support from neurological patients suffering parietal lobe lesions (e.g., neglect patients).


  1. Bisiach, E., Capitani, E., & Porta, E. (1985). Two basic properties of space representation in the brain: Evidence from unilateral neglect. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, 48, 141-144.
  2. Eilam, N., McCarthy, R., & Brewer, B. (1993). (Eds.) Spatial Representation: Problems in Philosophy and Psychology. Oxford: Blackwell.
  3. Olson, D. R., & Bialystok, E. (1983). Spatial cognition: The structure and development of mental representations of spatial relations. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.