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Gerb, J.; Brandt, T.; Dieterich, M. (2023): Shape configuration of mental targets representation as a holistic measure in a 3D real world pointing test for spatial orientation. Scientific Reports, 13 (1). ISSN 2045-2322

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Deficits in spatial memory are often early signs of neurological disorders. Here, we analyzed the geometrical shape configuration of 2D-projections of pointing performances to a memorized array of spatially distributed targets in order to assess the feasibility of this new holistic analysis method. The influence of gender differences and cognitive impairment was taken into account in this methodological study. 56 right-handed healthy participants (28 female, mean age 48.89 ± 19.35 years) and 22 right-handed patients with heterogeneous cognitive impairment (12 female, mean age 71.73 ± 7.41 years) underwent a previously validated 3D-real-world pointing test (3D-RWPT). Participants were shown a 9-dot target matrix and afterwards asked to point towards each target in randomized order with closed eyes in different body positions relative to the matrix. Two-dimensional projections of these pointing vectors (i.e., the shapes resulting from the individual dots) were then quantified using morphological analyses. Shape configurations in healthy volunteers largely reflected the real-world target pattern with gender-dependent differences (ANCOVA area males vs. females F(1,73) = 9.00, p 3.69 × 10−3, partial η2 = 0.10, post-hoc difference = 38,350.43, pbonf=3.69 × 10−3**, Cohen’s d 0.76, t 3.00). Patients with cognitive impairment showed distorted rectangularity with more large-scale errors, resulting in decreased overall average diameters and solidity (ANCOVA diameter normal cognition/cognitive impairment F(1,71) = 9.30, p 3.22 × 10−3, partial η2 = 0.09, post-hoc difference = 31.22, pbonf=3.19 × 10−3**, Cohen’s d 0.92, t 3.05; solidity normal cognition/cognitive impairment F(1,71) = 7.79, p 6.75 × 10−3, partial η2 = 0.08, post-hoc difference = 0.07, pbonf=6.76 × 10−3** Cohen’s d 0.84, t 2.79). Shape configuration analysis of the 3D-RWPT target array appears to be a suitable holistic measure of spatial performance in a pointing task. The results of this methodological investigation support further testing in a clinical study for differential diagnosis of disorders with spatial memory deficits.

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