Learning a cognitive map in a virtual environment: Distinctive landmarks and distinctive processing




Zhang, Yang

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By navigating in the world, people develop cognitive maps which include two types of knowledge: procedural knowledge (which way to turn at landmarks) and survey knowledge (the spatial layout of the landmarks in the environment). This study investigated the acquisition of cognitive maps in a virtual environment (VE) and specifically explored how procedural and survey knowledge acquisition was influenced by landmark features and different information processing. A total of 48 college students were recruited from the SONA subject pool. They navigated a VE for 3 cycles and learned 24 landmarks in the VE. Subsequent tests measured their knowledge of turn direction and maze location of each landmark. Accuracy was analyzed by a split plot factorial ANOVA. As hypothesized, although initially equal, survey knowledge was more difficult to learn than procedural knowledge over cycles. Performance depended more on specific landmarks than on overall size, stability, and categorization. While an overall advantage of distinctive processing was not found, distinctive processing aided the learning of turn direction. Correlations with mental rotation skill also revealed a difference between distinctive and categorical processing.


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cognitive map, distinctiveness, spatial navigation