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Document Type

Feature Article

Publication Date

Fall 9-1-2011

Publication Title

Washington University Undergraduate Research Digest: WUURD 7(1)


Peer Editors: Sarah Cohen and Rachael Tellerman; Faculty Mentor: Denise Head

Spatial navigation in a novel environment is associated with two general strategies: place learning and response learning. Place learning is an allocentric strategy that forms and utilizes a cognitive map, while response learning is an egocentric strategy that relies on the memorization of a series of turns. In this study, a computerized virtual maze task was created to address three research questions. First, what is the spontaneous adoption ratio between each strategy? Second, can participants switch to a more optimal strategy once they are in the maze? Third, once participants utilized an optimal strategy, will they transfer the use of that optimal strategy to a new environment? Data for both young and old adults were gathered and analyzed. Our results showed that both younger and older adults spontaneously adopted either a place or response learning strategy in a near 50/50 ratio. Those subjects who did not spontaneously adopt the optimal strategy were able to switch to the optimal strategy in both age groups. Once subjects utilized the optimal strategy, they continued using that strategy in a new environment, and this was witnessed in both age groups. Older adults, however, on average took longer to complete each block than younger adults. This is likely caused by an age-related decline in navigation abilities.

From the Washington University Undergraduate Research Digest: WUURD, Volume 7, Issue 1, Fall 2011. Published by the Office of Undergraduate Research, Joy Zalis Kiefer Director of Undergraduate Research and Assistant Dean in the College of Arts & Sciences; Kristin Sobotka, Editor.


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