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Charlotte E. Roy, Dennis Wiebusch, Marc O. Ernst; Where did I park my car? Influence of visual landmark permanency on navigation. Journal of Vision 2019;19(10):180b. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/19.10.180b.
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Visual landmarks provide crucial information for human navigation. But what defines a landmark? To be uniquely recognized, a landmark should be distinctive and salient, while providing precise and accurate positional information (Chan, FrontiersPsychology, 2012). However, it should also be permanent, e.g., to find back your car, a nearby church seems a better landmark compared with a truck, as you learned the truck likely might move. However, if you are only in the shop for a minute you may as well use the truck as a landmark because it is likely still there upon return. To this end, we here investigate the learning of landmark permanency while treating permanency as a probabilistic feature for human navigation. Particularly we study the learning behavior when exposed to landmarks whose permanency characteristics are probabilistically defined and hypothesize that humans will be able to learn these characteristics and assign higher weight to more permanent landmarks. To test this hypothesis, we used a homing task where participants had to return home, while the home position was surrounded by three landmarks. In the learning phase we manipulated the permanency of one landmark by secretly repositioning it prior to returning home. The statistics of repositioning was drawn from a normal distribution. In the test phase we investigated the weight given to the non-permanent landmark by analyzing its influence on the homing performance. The results of two studies with different permanency statistics confirmed our hypothesis. Participants learned the non-permanent characteristics and consequently weighted these landmarks less upon returning home. We conclude that landmark permanency is a probabilistic feature used by humans for navigation.
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