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Title: The search for structure : an assessment of the benefits of using structured patterns in human spatial memory
Author: Kirby, Melissa
ISNI:       0000 0004 6424 731X
Awarding Body: University of Leicester
Current Institution: University of Leicester
Date of Award: 2017
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The search for food is directly related to individual fitness, with many cognitive competences thought to be the products of foraging pressures faced by our hominid ancestors. Efficient spatial working memory, which often shows a male advantage, is of particular importance to maximise benefits whilst minimising costs during search. An ability to benefit from spatial structure, which reduces memory load, interestingly shows an inverse relationship with taxonomic distance from humans. Eleven experiments highlighted a propensity to detect and benefit from structure during search, and considered the evolutionary and comparative importance of this high-level cognitive skill. In the first study to disentangle the cognitive and energetic motivations of human search, a preference was found for the reduction of cognitive load by exploiting spatial structure, over the reduction of travelling distance. Further findings suggested that data-reducing strategies exploiting spatial structure may be characteristic of primate cognition. The development of an ecologically valid task based on primate foraging situations, showed a strong tendency in humans to detect and use temporal structure. When adapted for the assessment of older adults and children, older adults were less efficient foragers and showed a deficit in their ability to detect temporal structure, whilst children appeared to show a developmental trend in foraging efficiency. This task afforded a direct comparison between humans and a non-human primate species, which suggested that baboons did not exploit temporal structure during search. The finding that humans show a tendency to promote cognitive over energetic economy, and a strong proficiency to benefit from structure in stimuli, has implications for the evolution of this competency, the role of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and sex differences in spatial memory. These findings have implications for theories which suggest that diet and the requirements of foraging played an important role in the high-level cognition humans possess today.
Supervisor: De Lillo, Carlo ; Duke, Philip Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available