Wayfinding Behavior and Spatial Knowledge Acquisition: Are They the Same in Virtual Reality and in Real-World Environments?

Abstract: Finding one’s way is a fundamental daily activity and has been widely studied in the field of geospatial cognition. Immersive virtual reality (iVR) techniques provide new approaches for investigating wayfinding behavior and spatial knowledge acquisition. It is currently unclear, however, how wayfinding behavior and spatial knowledge acquisition in iVR differ from those in real-world environments (REs). We conducted an RE wayfinding experiment with twenty-five participants who performed a series of tasks. We then conducted an iVR experiment using the same experimental design with forty participants who completed the same tasks. Participants’ eye movements were recorded in both experiments. In addition, verbal reports and postexperiment questionnaires were collected as . The results revealed that individuals’ wayfinding performance is largely the same between the two environments, whereas their visual attention exhibited significant differences. Participants processed visual information more efficiently in RE but searched visual information more efficiently in iVR. For spatial knowledge acquisition, participants’ distance estimation was more accurate in iVR compared with RE. Participants’ direction estimation and sketch map results were not significantly different, however. This empirical evidence regarding the ecological validity of iVR might encourage further studies of the benefits of VR techniques in geospatial cognition research.

To cite this article: Dong, W.H., Qin, T., Yang, T.Y., Liao, H., Liu, B., Meng, L.Q., Liu, Y., Wayfinding Behavior and Spatial Knowledge Acquisition: Are They the Same in Virtual Reality and in Real-World Environments? Ann. Am. Assoc. Geogr., 21.

DOI: 10.1080/24694452.2021.1894088

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