Imagining a familiar environment is different from imagining an environmental map and clinical evidence demonstrated the existence of double dissociations in brain-damaged patients due to the contents of mental images. Here, we assessed a large sample of young and old participants by considering their ability to generate different kinds of mental images, namely, buildings or common objects. As buildings are environmental stimuli that have an important role in human navigation, we expected that elderly participants would have greater difficulty in generating images of buildings than common objects. We found that young and older participants differed in generating both buildings and common objects. For young participants there were no differences between buildings and common objects, but older participants found easier to generate common objects than buildings. Buildings are a special type of visual stimuli because in urban environments they are commonly used as landmarks for navigational purposes. Considering that topographical orientation is one of the abilities mostly affected in normal and pathological aging, the present data throw some light on the impaired processes underlying human navigation.
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