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Journal Article

Navigating in a virtual three-dimensional maze: how do egocentric and allocentric reference frames interact?

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Vidal, M., Amorim, M.-A., & Berthoz, A. (2004). Navigating in a virtual three-dimensional maze: how do egocentric and allocentric reference frames interact? Cognitive Brain Research, 19(3), 244-258. doi:10.1016/j.cogbrainres.2003.12.006.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-D947-D
Spatial navigation in the presence of gravity restricts one's displacement to two-dimensional (2D) planes. Therefore, self-motion only includes translations and yaw rotations. In contrast, in weightlessness, one can translate and turn in any direction. In the first experiment, we compared the ability to memorize a virtual three-dimensional (3D) maze after passive exploration in three self-motion conditions, each using a different set of rotations for turning. Subjects indicated which pathway they traversed among four successive corridors presented from an outside perspective. Results showed that exploring in the terrestrial condition (including only yaw rotations, the viewer's virtual body remaining upright) allowed better recognition of the corridor than in the weightless condition (which included pitch and yaw rotations according to the turns), particularly for more complex 3D structures. The more frequently the viewer-defined (egocentric) and the global environment (allocentric) verticals were aligned during exploration, the more easily subjects could memorize the 3D maze, suggesting that simplifying the relationship between the egocentric and allocentric reference frames facilitates spatial updating. Nevertheless, with practice, performance in the weightless condition improved whereas in the natural terrestrial condition performance remained at its initial maximum, indicating that the cognitive processes involved were innate for this particular condition. The second experiment revealed that single rotations in the terrestrial condition must be performed around the body axis in order to obtain optimal spatial updating performance, and that the latter is independent of the conflict with gravity that might favor this condition when one is actually upright. This suggests that although humans can memorize 3D-structured environments their innate neurocognitive functions appear to be specialized for natural 2D navigation.