Human wayfinding and navigation in a large-scale environment : cognitive map development and wayfinding strategies
In a large scale environment humans rely on their mental representations —cognitive maps— to solve navigational problems. To approach the understanding of how humans acquire, process, and utilize information from the environment, three groups of participants in this study performed several experiments associated with finding their way in a previously unknown environment. Experimental tasks included route retracing, pointing to previously visited locations, and a questionnaire regarding wayfinding strategies and cognitive map development. Each of three groups of participants was in one of three unique conditions: 1. learning and retracing with navigational landmarks indicating right and left turns at decision points; 2. during route retracing only generic landmarks were present at decision points (landmarks indicating left and right were present during learning but replaced during retracing); and 3. no landmarks were present during route retracing (landmarks indicating left and right were present during learning but removed before retracing started). Results supported the hypothesis that during the initial stages of visiting an unknown environment we build metric knowledge together with non-metric knowledge associated with the broad categories of landmark and route knowledge. In addition, the environment plays an important role in wayfinding performance and that characteristics of the environment contribute differently to the development of our cognitive map. Last but not least, the strategies humans use to solve wayfinding problems in a novel environment are not based on an individual type of environmental knowledge; in fact, we switch between different types of environmental knowledge when necessary. Shifting between strategies appears to be from more familiar environmental knowledge to less familiar knowledge. In particular, participants from group 3 (no landmarks during the retracing period) were more likely to walk off-route during retracing but exhibited more accurate metric knowledge of the environment. Based on the results of this experiment, they combined route- and survey-based strategies in wayfinding and switched from the most familiar knowledge to a less familiar strategy.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
SupervisorBell, Scott M.
CommitteeNolan, James F.; Aitken, Alec E.; Peters, Evelyn