Verbalizing, Visualizing, and Navigating: The Effect of Strategies on Encoding a Large-Scale Virtual Environment

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Using novel virtual cities, we investigated the influence of verbal and visual strategies on the encoding of navigation-relevant information in a large-scale virtual environment. In 2 experiments, participants watched videos of routes through 4 virtual cities and were subsequently tested on their memory for observed landmarks and their ability to make judgments regarding the relative directions of the different landmarks along the route. In the first experiment, self-report questionnaires measuring visual and verbal cognitive styles were administered to examine correlations between cognitive styles, landmark recognition, and judgments of relative direction. Results demonstrate a tradeoff in which the verbal cognitive style is more beneficial for recognizing individual landmarks than for judging relative directions between them, whereas the visual cognitive style is more beneficial for judging relative directions than for landmark recognition. In a second experiment, we manipulated the use of verbal and visual strategies by varying task instructions given to separate groups of participants. Results confirm that a verbal strategy benefits landmark memory, whereas a visual strategy benefits judgments of relative direction. The manipulation of strategy by altering task instructions appears to trump individual differences in cognitive style. Taken together, we find that processing different details during route encoding, whether due to individual proclivities (Experiment 1) or task instructions (Experiment 2), results in benefits for different components of navigation-relevant information. These findings also highlight the value of considering multiple sources of individual differences as part of spatial cognition investigations.

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