The impact of spatial boundaries on wayfinding and landmark memory: a developmental perspective

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University of Alabama Libraries

Spatial boundaries are common structures but their effects on wayfinding and other spatial behaviors have largely been ignored. The "location-updating" effect describes a phenomenon where memory for objects is often worse after a spatial shift, such as moving through a spatial boundary, such as a doorway into another room (Radvansky & Copeland, 2006). Young children are typically worse at wayfinding compared to older children and adults and, consequently, may be more susceptible to effects associated with spatial boundaries. Across two experiments, I assessed the impacts of spatial boundaries on wayfinding and landmark memory in younger children, older children and adults. In the learning phase of Experiment 1, adults completed a wayfinding task where they followed arrows along a route through a virtual environment. In a later test phase, participants navigated the same route without assistance from arrows. To assess the impact of spatial boundaries, the wayfinding task either contained or did not contain doorways. Total wrong turns and landmarks recalled for the testing phase were recorded. In Experiment 2, younger and older children completed a similar, but shorter, wayfinding task. I hypothesized that: i) wayfinding and landmark memory would be significantly worse when spatial boundaries are present, compared to absent and ii) this effect would be exaggerated in younger children, compared to older children and adults. Results showed that adult wayfinding and landmark recall was not impacted by the presence of spatial boundaries. However, children in Experiment 2 exhibited a spatial boundary effect where more errors were committed and fewer landmarks were recalled when spatial boundaries were present compared to absent. Verbal memory and visuo-spatial working memory were related to wayfinding and landmark recall performance. Greater verbal memory was found to be predictive of fewer wayfinding errors in the Boundary condition. This research suggests that spatial boundaries may introduce a form of interference during environmental learning that varies with increasing age. Additionally, spatial boundaries may be one feature that aids in a regionalization process that organizes units in a cognitive map.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Cognitive psychology, Developmental psychology