On Being Lost: Evaluating Spatial Recognition in a Virtual Environment

On Being Lost: Evaluating Spatial Recognition in a Virtual Environment

Tomohiro Sasaki, Michael Vallance
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/IJVAR.2018070103
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People who have a poor sense of direction are called 方向オンチ (houkou-onchi) in Japanese. What makes those people houkou-onchi? What are the differences between people who get lost and others? In an attempt to answer these questions, three applications were developed using virtual reality (VR), informed by the literature of cognitive psychology. The applications were used to collect data about spatial recognition and to determine the essence of houkou-onchi. Experiments were conducted in which subjects (n=23) first answered a questionnaire, then participated in three applications to test their spatial recognition and psychological ability, and finally undertook a paper-based task. The data and resultant analysis found that the faster the mental rotation ability a person has, the better he/she can understand directions. In addition, people who actively engage in their surroundings also have a better sense of direction. The article details the design, implementation and subsequent experiments of the VR applications.
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Literature Review

Houkou-onchi (方向オンチ in Japanese), or getting lost (also referred to as spatial disorientation (Dudchenko 2010)), is a common topic in Japan, and a number of books and articles have been published (Murakoshi, 2001; Shingaki, 2001). There is also literature related to houkou-onchi based on cognitive psychology. For example, Shingaki (2001) found that a person required good mental rotation abilities in order to successfully locate directions to a certain place using a map. Hakoda (2010) confirmed the related ability to rotate mental representations of two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects in the human mind. In other words, if the direction a person faces and the direction of a map correspond, directions becomes easier to understand because less calculation of rotations in the mind are required. Shingaki (2001) also stated that people who get lost tend to care about something irrelevant to the route while walking; for example, other pedestrians or cars. In contrast, others who are not prone to getting lost care mainly about landmarks which are helpful to understand directions.

It is also known that a person can pay more attention to certain things while walking or exploring. For instance, in an experiment using a driving game, a significant difference in neural activation was detected when a subject was viewing a target object as opposed to a non-target object (Mollison, 2005). In other words, objects that a person cares and notices while walking are used to remember routes to places.

Tversky (1993) found people can form coherent mental representations of the spatial relations among landmarks whether learned from direct experience, or learned vicariously through language. Subjects could produce a correct map from learning descriptions about it. Tversky (1993) stated it’s inefficient to remember a route as successive snapshots of the world because this would not allow recognition or navigation from other points of view.

Therefore, it is thought that people remember a route by finding certain things (e.g. objects, landmarks) and understanding the connections among them. But things they care about can be different. Besides, in terms of understanding a map, a cognitive ability named ‘mental rotation’ is required, so the differences among people’s cognitive ability and attention to things can indicate what factors influence who can become lost (cf.Dudchenko, 2010).

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