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George S W Chan, Jennifer L Campos, Hong-Jin Sun; Spatial representations obtained through map learning and through navigation in real and virtual environments. Journal of Vision 2003;3(9):486. doi: 10.1167/3.9.486.
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Past studies have shown that learning an environment via a map produces an orientation specific representation, resulting in more accurate directional judgements when tested in the same orientation as that of the originally encoded environment (alignment effect). In contrast, navigating through an environment produces an orientation free representation, resulting in equally accurate performance regardless of orientation. The aim of the current study was to determine whether certain factors, such as the level of interactivity, are involved in developing an orientation free representation. In Experiments 1, subjects either viewed a map of a complex building, navigated within that building, or navigated within a realistic interactive virtual simulation of that building (by pedalling a stationary bicycle while receiving visual feedback). Subjects' directional judgements of target landmarks demonstrated an alignment effect in the map condition but not in either navigation condition (real or virtual). In Experiment 2, even when the learning condition encouraged the development of an orientation specific representation by only allowing subjects to maintain a single orientation, no alignment effect was observed. In Experiment 3, subjects either actively navigated through a virtual environment or experienced the same visual trajectory by passively viewing a visual display. An alignment effect was only observed for the passive viewing condition. In contrast to previous VR studies using keyboard input, these results suggest that sufficiently high quality, multisensory VR setups are capable of producing spatial representations paralleling those developed in the real world. Overall, multiple sources of sensory information as well as active navigation (in a real or a virtual environment) appear to be important factors in establishing an orientation free representation.
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