Understanding Navigational Success in Humans
Nelligan, Benjamin Dennis
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In our daily lives, we often need to move from one location to another. We move around rooms in our homes, walk through college campuses, and find our way through mazes of city streets. The need to successfully navigate is critical to one’s life. But despite this ubiquitous need, how successful we are at navigating varies significantly between individuals. Previous research on this topic has emphasized the information one learns about the environment (e.g. location of landmarks, understanding the structure of the environment, etc.), leading to environmental structure learning being synonymous with successful navigation. But this assumption has never been empirically evaluated. Thus the goal of this project was to understand the extent to which environmental structure learning is, in fact, the similar to successful navigation. The first step in accomplishing this was to develop performance-based measures of navigation that capture variance in both how and how well one navigates. This was accomplished in Experiments 1 & 2. Using these measures, Experiment 3 demonstrated that good environmental learning is dissociable from successful navigation. Following this, we used what is known about the predictors of good environmental structure learning to understand the factors that contribute to successful navigation. The results indicated that the ability to use novel and familiar solutions and a bias towards using familiar solutions were predictive of an individual’s success when navigating. Gender differences were also observed, such that novel solution capacity was the primary contributor of success for males, whereas familiar solution capacity and a bias to use familiar solutions were the largest contributors to success for females. This work elucidates the factors that contribute to successful navigation and shifts the dialogue about navigation from being about learning the structure of the environment to being about how successful one is when they navigate.