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Jie Ding, Jeffrey A Saunders; Spatial learning from navigation in a virtual environment: effect of previewing a top-down map. Journal of Vision 2019;19(10):180. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/19.10.180.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Previous evidence suggests that cognitive maps have an orientation; for example, judgments of relative direction (JRD) are better when the imagined facing direction is aligned with the dominant orientation of an environment. We tested whether briefly viewing a top-down map before exploring an environment can induce the orientation of a cognitive map. Subjects navigated in a virtual village environment to find a sequence of targets, and then performed a JRD task to test their spatial knowledge. In separate sessions, we tested conditions with and without a map preview. In the map preview condition, subjects viewed a top-down image of the environment with targets removed for 30 seconds before exploration. The village environments were constructed to have one longer path that would be a natural intrinsic axis, which was oriented to be diagonal on the preview maps. The map orientation and intrinsic structure therefore predict different alignment effects. JRD trials had four facing directions: aligned or perpendicular to the map orientation, and aligned or perpendicular to intrinsic axis. We found that JRD accuracy varied as a function of facing direction, and that the alignment effect depended whether the map was previewed. With no map, mean errors were lowest when the JRD facing direction was aligned with the intrinsic axis of the environment, while with a map preview, the mean errors were lowest when the facing direction was aligned with the upward direction of the map. The map preview did not produce any overall improvement in accuracy in judgments, which suggests that most of the spatial learning was from exploration, and that the map primarily determined the orientation of the cognitive map. Our results demonstrate that a brief preview of a map is enough to change how spatial knowledge acquired from navigation is encoded.
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