Navigating in Virtual Environments: Does a Map or a Map-Based Description Presented Beforehand Help?
Background. One of the aims of research in spatial cognition is to examine the factors capable of optimizing environment learning from navigation, which can be examined using a virtual environment (VE). Different learning conditions can play an important part. Aim. This study examined the benefits of presenting configured information (layout with elements arranged in it) using a map or verbal description before a learner navigates in a new environment. Method. Ninety participants were assigned
... o three learning groups of 30 individuals (15 males and 15 females). Before participants navigated in a VE, one group was shown a map of the environment ("map before navigation"), a second group read a map-like description of the environment ("description before navigation"), and a third group started navigating without any prior input ("only navigation"). Participants then learned a path in a VE (presented as if they were driving a car). Their recall was subsequently tested using three types of task: (i) route retracing; (ii) pointing; (iii) path drawing. Several measures were administered to assess participants' individual visuospatial and verbal factors. Results. There were no differences between the three groups in route retracing. The "map before navigation" group performed better than the "only navigation" group in both the pointing and the path drawing tasks, however, and also outperformed the "description before navigation" group in the path drawing task. Some relations emerged between participants' individual difference factors and their recall performance. Conclusions. In learning from navigation, seeing a map beforehand benefits learning accuracy. Recall performance is also supported, at least in part, by individual visuospatial and verbal factors.