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Human Sense of Direction and Wayfinding

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One of the oldest beliefs about human wayfinding is that some people have a natural ability that distinguishes them from others. In four experiments, we asked adults to rate their own sense of direction, a promising index of orientation skills despite its simplicity and reliance on self-assessment. There were small to moderate correlations between self-ratings and accuracy of pointing to imagined landmarks, accuracy of path choices during a route reversal and detour, speed at executing shortcuts, and accuracy of choices of halls within a building complex. Although we did not find consistent gender differences in actual wayfinding, effects across experiments indicate that females rated their sense of direction as worse than males. Deliberations by females may have affected the speed of some of their performances. The results suggest that self-evaluation of sense of direction is associated with evaluation of one's familiarity with features of particular environments, as well as memories of successes and failures in recent wayfinding efforts.

Keywords: orientation; spatial cognition; wayfinding

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2003-06-01

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