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Reference frames in learning from maps and navigation


In everyday life, navigators often consult a map before they navigate to a destination (e.g., a hotel, a room, etc.). However, not much is known about how humans gain spatial knowledge from seeing a map and direct navigation together. In the present experiments, participants learned a simple multiple corridor space either from a map only, only from walking through the virtual environment, first from the map and then from navigation, or first from navigation and then from the map. Afterwards, they conducted a pointing task from multiple body orientations to infer the underlying reference frames. We constructed the learning experiences in a way such that map-only learning and navigation-only learning triggered spatial memory organized along different reference frame orientations. When learning from maps before and during navigation, participants employed a map- rather than a navigation-based reference frame in the subsequent pointing task. Consequently, maps caused the employment of a map-oriented reference frame found in memory for highly familiar urban environments ruling out explanations from environmental structure or north preference. When learning from navigation first and then from the map, the pattern of results reversed and participants employed a navigation-based reference frame. The priority of learning order suggests that despite considerable difference between map and navigation learning participants did not use the more salient or in general more useful information, but relied on the reference frame established first.

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This work was supported by the DFG grants ME 3476/2-2 and in the SFB/TR8 Spatial Cognition project I6-NavTalk, by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science, Japan KAKENHI grant (23240034), the Humboldt Foundation, and by the Brain Korea 21 PLUS Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea funded by the Ministry of Education. We would like to thank Chantal Horeis and Nikola Bubalo for their help in data collection and analysis.

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Correspondence to Tobias Meilinger or Heinrich H. Bülthoff.

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Meilinger, T., Frankenstein, J., Watanabe, K. et al. Reference frames in learning from maps and navigation. Psychological Research 79, 1000–1008 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-014-0629-6

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  • Reference Frame
  • Virtual Environment
  • Spatial Memory
  • Spatial Knowledge
  • Body Orientation