Applied Cognitive Psychology

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The effect of pointing on spatial working memory in a 3D virtual environment


Pointing to locations can either help or hinder people's ability to recall spatial information. Prior research has focused on two‐dimensional spatial memory and pointing in real world tasks. The effect of pointing on three‐dimensional spatial memory in virtual environments remains unexplored. We examine this effect by comparing participants' recall when they point to and memorize a series of three‐dimensional locations using a gesture interface, and when they only passively view and memorize the spatial array. Thirty‐three participants completed 50 trials in both conditions. The results reveal that pointing has a negative effect on memory in the three‐dimensional virtual environment. These findings held across memory in the xy plane of the computer screen as well as memory in the virtual third dimension. When they pointed during encoding, participants also responded more slowly, suggesting a higher cognitive load. Thus, active pointing may cause interference when users are simultaneously performing spatial memorization tasks.

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