Active and Passive Spatial Learning in Human Navigation: Acquisition of Survey Knowledge

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It seems intuitively obvious that active exploration of a new environment would lead to better spatial learning than would passive visual exposure. It is unclear, however, which components of active learning contribute to spatial knowledge, and previous literature is decidedly mixed. This experiment tests the contributions of 4 components to metric survey knowledge: visual, vestibular, and podokinetic information and cognitive decision making. In the learning phase, 6 groups of participants learned the locations of 8 objects in a virtual hedge maze by (a) walking, (b) being pushed in a wheelchair, or (c) watching a video, crossed with (1) making decisions about their path or (2) being guided through the maze. In the test phase, survey knowledge was assessed by having participants walk a novel shortcut from a starting object to the remembered location of a test object, with the maze removed. Performance was slightly better than chance in the passive video condition. The addition of vestibular information did not improve performance in the wheelchair condition, but the addition of podokinetic information significantly improved angular accuracy in the walking condition. In contrast, there was no effect of decision making in any condition. The results indicate that visual and podokinetic information significantly contribute to survey knowledge, whereas vestibular information and decision making do not. We conclude that podokinetic information is the primary component of active learning for the acquisition of metric survey knowledge.

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