Publication Date


Document Type


Committee Members

Dragana Claflin (Committee Member), Herbert Colle (Committee Chair), Gilkey Robert (Committee Member), Scott Watamaniuk (Committee Member)

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This study investigated the importance of the peripheral visual field for acquiring configural spatial knowledge, especially knowledge about structural components like doorways, corners, and walls, but also information about objects. Although peripheral vision helps us orient our bodies in space, navigate successfully through an environment, and physically interact with objects in near physical space (Kesner & Creem-Regehr, 2012; Burgess, Jeffrey, & O’Keefe, 1999), previous research has not investigated the role of the peripheral visual field for the acquisition of spatial knowledge during navigation. All participants in this experiment viewed a virtual navigation tour through a four-room environment with objects located in each room, while fixating at a central point on a large monitor. Viewing conditions manipulated the visual field of view available to five groups of participants (24 participants per group). The conditions included a no mask group, and three, round, central mask groups that blocked foveal vision and an increasing amount of peripheral vision (10º, 35º, 70º visual angle) on a monitor with a 120º horizontal viewing field. The other group had a peripheral mask that blocked the entire viewing field except for an 8º diameter aperture in the middle of the mask. All participants passively travelled through a novel virtual environment, from which configural spatial knowledge can be easily acquired under normal viewing conditions (Colle & Reid, 1998, 2000, 2003). Configural spatial memory was measured by obtaining both structural and object-to-object absolute angular error from sketchmaps of the environment, which each participant drew after experiencing the virtual environment. Results showed that participants’ configural spatial knowledge for structural components acquired with the 10º and 35º central masks was as good as, and not statistically different from, the no mask condition (viewing the entire screen). Spatial knowledge acquired in these three groups was substantially better (smaller angular error) than the 70º central mask and the peripheral mask groups. Unlike the good performance for the structural data, it was more difficult for participants to acquire knowledge of object-to-object spatial relationships for all groups although participants’ ability to identify objects was good, and statistically comparable, for all four of the central mask groups. Thus, regions of the visual periphery appear to play an important role in acquiring object information and configural spatial knowledge for the structure of an environment during navigation.

Page Count


Department or Program

Department of Psychology

Year Degree Awarded