Orientation in environmental spaces

Orientation in space is fundamental for all humans and most other animals. Accomplishing goals often requires moving through environmental spaces such as forests, houses, or cities. This project investigates which strategies humans apply to solve orientation tasks such as wayfinding or self-localisation, what knowledge they require for that, and how they represent this knowledge.
To answer these questions we conduct behavioural experiments in real and virtual environments. We manipulate the available information, the task, or the structure of the environment in order to identify the knowledge and strategies involved. For example participants have to find a route relying either on a map or on verbal directions. The dual task methodology is used to determine which kinds of representations are involved, e.g., in memorising a route. In this methodology spatial or verbal secondary tasks are performed in addition to an orientation task. Interference between the orientation task and a secondary task indicates commonly used representations. In addition, we use the formal analysis technique “isovist analysis” to describe the geometric structure of spaces. Parameters obtained in such a way are correlated with measures of knowledge and wayfinding performance.
Results indicate that participants memorise the geometry of their immediate surrounding and use it for wayfinding. Metric relations between locations which are not mutually visible can also be learned. However, strategies based on this metric knowledge do not seem to be used very much for wayfinding and rather lead to worse wayfinding performance. Environmental spaces seem to be memorised in multiple units such as rooms or streets. Reference frames for these units are defined mainly by how these units were experienced. There is no indication that environmental spaces are necessarily integrated into a global frame of reference. Routes are not only memorised with spatial representations as the ones mentioned, but also with verbal representations, e.g., verbal directions. In the long run, these results can help improving navigation aids used for orientation.


Meilinger T Person (September-2008) The Network of Reference Frames Theory: A Synthesis of Graphs and Cognitive Maps In: Spatial Cognition VI: Learning, Reasoning, and Talking about Space, International Conference Spatial Cognition (SC 2008), Springer, Berlin, Germany, 344-360.
pdfCiteID: 5181
Meilinger T Person, Knauff M Person and Bülthoff HH Person (June-2008) Working memory in wayfinding: a dual task experiment in a virtual city Cognitive Science 32(4) 755-770.
CiteID: 4957

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Last updated: Tuesday, 07.05.2013