Using virtual environments to investigate wayfinding in 8- to 12-year-olds and adults

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Abstract

Wayfinding is the ability to learn and recall a route through an environment. Theories of wayfinding suggest that for children to learn a route successfully, they must have repeated experience of it, but in this experiment we investigated whether children could learn a route after only a single experience of the route. A total of 80 participants from the United Kingdom in four groups of 20 8-year-olds, 10-year-olds, 12-year-olds, and adults were shown a route through a 12-turn maze in a virtual environment. At each junction, there was a unique object that could be used as a landmark. Participants were ‘‘walked” along the route just once (without any verbal prompts) and then were asked to retrace the route from the start without any help. Nearly three quarters of the 12- year-olds, half of the 10-year-olds, and a third of the 8-year-olds retraced the route without any errors the first time they traveled it on their own. This finding suggests that many young children can learn routes, even with as many as 12 turns, very quickly and without the need for repeated experience. The implications for theories of wayfinding that emphasize the need for extensive experience are discussed.

Publication
Journal of Experimental Child Psychology

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Jamie Lingwood
Research Fellow

My research interests include language development, language processing, and shared book reading.