ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2016, Vol. 48 ›› Issue (6): 637-647.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2016.00637

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The process of construction of spatial representation in the unfamiliar environment in the blind: The role of strategies and its effect

CHEN Xiaomeng1; LIU Chunling2; QIAO Fuqiang3; QI Kemin4   

  1. (1 School of Special Education, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510 631, China) (2 Faculty of Education, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200063, China) (3 School of Education and psychology, University of Jinan, Jinan 250022, China) (4 Department of Health and Exercise Science, Tianjin University of Sport, Tianjin 300381, China)
  • Received:2015-09-25 Published:2016-06-25 Online:2016-06-25
  • Contact: CHEN Xiaomeng, E-mail:


Spatial representation is the spatial images of object location and spatial relationships in the mind. Since the work of Tolman, numerous cognitive psychology studies have been conducted to examine the formation of spatial representation and underlying mechanisms in people having visual experiences. In relation to those have visual experiences, blind people may rely more upon precisely constructed spatial representation, which can help them with orientation and navigation in the absence of their vision. However, previous studies on spatial representation of blind people were mainly conducted in laboratories. It remains relatively unclear how blind people encode unfamiliar spatial stimuli and construct spatial representation in real-life situations. This study used field experiment to investigate the characteristics of blind persons’ spatial representation in an unfamiliar environment. It focused on exploring navigation process, namely the impact of wayfinding strategy on knowledge acquisition of spatial representation. Participants were 26 congenitally totally blind persons, 29 adventitiously totally blind ones, and 25 sighted ones. All participants were voluntarily recruited from a special education school. The results showed that the spatial representation of most congenitally blind participants was characterized by a route representation in large-scale space, while most adventitiously blind and sighted participants exhibited a survey representation. Congenitally blind participants were found to use different strategies for constructing spatial representation. Through the use of a spatial relationship strategy, congenitally blind participants performed as well as adventitiously blind and sighted ones in the construction of spatial representation. The current data found no gender effect on spatial representation in an unfamiliar environment. In parallel with findings from neurobiological studies, this study demonstrated that lack of visual experiences adversely influenced the ability of blind people’s spatial representation. However, utilization of appropriate strategies may mitigate such impairing effect of blindness. This study also found an association between spatial representation and walking efficiency. Blind persons who were better at constructing spatial representation walked faster and were less likely to take wrong paths. This study adds to the literature by adopting filed experiment to explore strategies used by blind people for constructing spatial representation in real-life environments. Our findings could inform professionals on how to more effectively provide blind people with appropriate orientation and modality trainings, which may in turn have a positive impact on their social engagement and life quality.

Key words: spatial representation, congenitally blind, adventitiously blind, wayfinding strategies