Does Visuospatial Working Memory Affect Wayfinding Using Two- and Three-Dimensional Maps?

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Alycia Hund

Mentor Department



The ability to navigate successfully through one's environment via learning, recalling, and following a route is known as wayfinding. People need to memorize their route or utilize a GPS before beginning to navigate. Understanding how people represent their environment mentally during navigation, such as mental maps, is important so that maps can be presented in the most efficient way to facilitate navigation. Mental maps are flexible internal representations of an arrangement of environmental stimuli or the environment itself. Representation, understanding, and manipulation of information contained within mental maps of the environment rely heavily on visuospatial working memory--the ability to temporarily keep and manipulate visual information in one's mind, such as temporarily storing visual images and remembering sequences of locations in a scene. Wide individual differences in visuospatial working memory raises questions regarding how people with higher and lower visuospatial working memory represent their environment. The goal of our experiment was to understand how different types of maps and visuospatial working memory interact to influence wayfinding performance. At the beginning of the experiment, participants were asked to examine a two-dimensional map, three-dimensional map, or walk around the wayfinding environment. Then they were asked to find specific locations using the shortest possible routes within the DeGarmo basement. During wayfinding, participants were asked to perform two secondary tasks (visual and spatial) which tax the components of visuospatial working memory. In addition, there was a control condition where participants only find the designated room. We record wayfinding times, routes, and pauses for analysis. Overall, we predicted that participants would perform the worst when spatial working memory was taxed and the best for the control (no secondary task) in terms of their wayfinding ability with visual secondary task performance intermediate. We also predicted an interaction between visuospatial working memory secondary tasks and the map learning conditions, where wayfinding ability will decrease respectively with three-dimensional map, two-dimensional map, and the exploration conditions for the control (no secondary task) condition; whereas wayfinding ability will increase across the conditions respectively for the secondary task conditions. Data collection is ongoing, but preliminary analyses confirm our predictions. These findings are important in helping understand the role of maps and visuospatial working memory in successful wayfinding.


Cody-graduate, Costigan-graduate, Millard-graduate

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