Insight as invention of relational reference systems: Emerging cognitive maps in spatial and non-spatial context

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Insight, specifically discovery of abstract regularities in experience can be thought as the invention of a relational framework which accommodate novel meaningful relationships within complex stimuli. Relatedly, for the flexibility in spatial navigation, since most of the necessary information is not directly or simultaneously perceived, relying on a relational reference system or a cognitive map seems to be required. In the present study, the ability to implicitly adapt to (implicit learning) and coherently formulate (discovery) an abstract regularity was assessed in a Number Reduction Task (NRT). To assess the ability for flexible navigation, a novel virtual environment was generated to simulate a set of way-finding and spatial judgement situations which necessitate reliance on a cognitive map. Those who can learn the regularity in the NRT were hypothesized to have higher performances in the navigation tasks since they can more easily generate relational reference systems to rely on during way-finding. This hypothesis was tested with 41 Boğaziçi University students. The results showed that discoverers in NRT performed significantly higher in the navigation tasks than non-discoverers (implicit learners and no relational learning group). Moreover, there observed a linear trend between relational learning levels (no relational learning, N; implicit learning, I; discovery, D) and navigation performances: D > I > N. The observed correlation of the performances in the two cognitive tasks was discussed in relation with the capacity to organize experiences as cognitive maps in spatial and non-spatial contexts.