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Amy Kalia, Gordon E. Legge, Nicholas A. Giudice; Learning virtual building layouts: The effects of age on the usefulness of geometric and nongeometric visual information. Journal of Vision 2006;6(6):140. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/6.6.140.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
This study examines the effect of age on the use of visual information when learning target locations in novel buildings. We define two types of visual information available for indoor navigation: 1) geometric cues conveying information about layout geometry, specifically, the network of corridors, and 2) nongeometric cues that are distinct from geometry, including identifiable objects (e.g. wall posters) and image characteristics (e.g. color, shading). Previous research suggests that although geometric visual cues are usually sufficient for spatial learning, nongeometric information can assist memory for geometrically-similar locations. We propose that age reduces the capacity to remember locations using geometrical features, resulting in greater reliance on nongeometric features. Sixteen younger (ages 17–22) and eight older (ages 53–66) normally-sighted individuals learned novel layouts in a Real building, and two desktop virtual environments, one displaying only geometric information (Sparse VE) and another displaying additional nongeometric features (Realistic VE). Older subjects exhibited greater difficulty learning in the Sparse VE compared to the Realistic VE, as indicated by poor target localization when navigating in the corresponding real building (p < 0.001). Younger subjects located targets accurately after learning in either VE. Because many visual impairments are caused by age-related disorders, we also compared performance to eleven visually impaired individuals (ages 18–67). The low-vision participants yielded similar results as their age-matched sighted peers, indicating that age is a factor to consider in evaluating navigation with low vision. These results reveal the importance of nongeometric visual cues for spatial navigation by older adults.
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