The time course of spatial knowledge acquisition for different digital navigation aids

Hantao Zhao, Lisa Frese, Claudio Venzin, Daniel Kaszás*, Raphael P. Weibel, Christoph Hölscher, Victor R. Schinazi, Tyler Thrash

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
36 Downloads (Pure)


Digital maps on personal devices (e.g., phones) are common tools used to aid navigation. Different types of digital maps can influence spatial knowledge acquisition, and this effect might depend on whether the user interacts with an forward-up or north-up map. In spatial cognition theory, these differences can be used to support either sequential or continuous theories of spatial knowledge acquisition. To test these hypotheses, we compared spatial learning of participants (N = 67) after navigation in a virtual city with either a forward-up map, a north-up map, or a guiding arrow (i.e., a control) as a navigation aid. Critically, participants were tested on landmark recognition tasks and judgments of relative direction (JRDs) after each of four navigation blocks. We also examined mental workload during map usage using eye tracking in terms of the distributions of fixations on the maps. The results indicated that, regardless of navigation aid, participants improved on both landmark recognition and JRD tasks over blocks of trials. In addition, we found an interaction between block and navigation aid. This interaction suggests that participants in the forward-up map group initially produced more JRD errors than the north-up map group but that the two groups performed similarly in later blocks as they became more familiar with the environment. These findings are consistent with the eye-tracking data, which suggested a decrease in mental workload as evidenced by an increase in fixation distributions over blocks of trials. Together, these results suggest that participants with any of these navigation aids perform similarly on some tasks (supporting sequential theory), although the time course of learning may differ between map types (supporting continuous theory).

Original languageEnglish
Article number101992
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalComputers, Environment and Urban Systems
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023
Externally publishedYes


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