Humans do not switch between path knowledge and landmarks when learning a new environment.

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Abstract or Description

Using a metric shortcut paradigm, we have found that like honeybees (Dyer in Animal Behaviour 41:239-246, 1991), humans do not seem to build a metric "cognitive map" from path integration. Instead, observers take novel shortcuts based on visual landmarks whenever they are available and reliable (Foo, Warren, Duchon, & Tarr in Journal of Experimental Psychology-Learning Memory and Cognition 31(2):195-215, 2005). In the present experiment we examine whether humans, like ants (Wolf & Wehner in Journal of Experimental Biology 203:857-868, 2000), first use survey-type path knowledge, built up from path integration, and then subsequently shift to reliance on landmarks. In our study participants walked in an immersive virtual environment while head position and orientation were recorded. During training, participants learned two legs of a triangle with feedback: paths from Home to Red and Home to Blue. A configuration of colored posts surrounded the Red location. To test reliance on landmarks, these posts were covertly translated, rotated, or left unchanged during six probe trials. These probe trials were interspersed during the training procedure to measure changes over learning. Dependence on visual landmarks was immediate and sustained during training, and no significant learning effects were observed other than a decrease in hesitation time. Our results suggest that while humans have at least two distinct navigational strategies available to them, unlike ants, a computationally-simpler landmark strategy dominates during novel shortcut navigation.




Published In

Psychological research, 71, 3, 240-251.