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Meeting Abstract

Development of spatial orientation and path integration in immersive virtual reality

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Nardini, M., Petrini, K., Chiu, H., & Foster, C. (2013). Development of spatial orientation and path integration in immersive virtual reality. Journal of Vision, 13(9), 959.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-6585-1
Although there are major changes in spatial cognition in the first years of life, spatial abilities continue to develop significantly through mid-childhood (e.g. Nardini et al, Current Biology 2008). Research with adults using immersive virtual reality allows for precise cue control, and for use of sensory conflicts to study interactions between cues. Here we asked whether immersive virtual reality using a relatively lightweight (1.3kg) headset is feasible for developmental research. In Experiment 1 we studied how observers use two distinct kinds of information about the shape of a virtual room – wall lengths and wall distances – to relocate a hidden object. Observers experienced a virtual environment displayed using a stereoscopic headset (nVisor SX111) whose movement was tracked and kept in register with the virtual space. Unlike toddlers, who are sensitive only to distances (Lee et al, Cognition 2012), adults used both wall distances and wall lengths to relocate objects. However, a 10-year-old child tested on the same task found wearing the headset to be fatiguing and did not complete the study. In Experiment 2 we piloted a method for studying cue integration during path integration. Observers completed a triangle with different information available in the outward walk: non-visual only (in the dark), visual only (playback of walking, while the observer is standing still), or both. Adults completed the task and showed differences across conditions consistent with the availability of different cues. A different 10-year-old child was tested, this time using a harness built to transfer the weight of the headset to the back while allowing for normal head rotation. This child completed the study with no difficulties and showed errors at the lower end of the adult range. This indicates that with suitable modifications, immersive virtual reality is a feasible method for studying novel aspects of spatial development in mid-childhood.