Spatial Cognition and Computation 1: 131–144, 1999.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Learning relative directions between landmarks in
a desktop virtual environment
WILLIAM S. ALBERT
, RONALD A. RENSINK
and JACK M.
Department of Geography, Boston University, Boston, MA, U.S.A.;
Research, Nissan Research and Development, Inc., Cambridge, MA, U.S.A.
Abstract. This study presents two experiments that examine how individuals learn rela-
tive directions between landmarks in a desktop virtual environment. Subjects were presented
snapshot images of different virtual environments containing distinguishing landmarks and a
road network. Following the presentation of each virtual environment, subjects were given a
relative direction test. The relative direction test involved indicating the direction of hidden
landmarks from different vantage points in the environment. Half of these vantage points
were presented during the learning phase, while the other half were novel. Results showed
that subjects learned relative directions between landmarks equally well when scenes were
presented in either a sequential or random order. Furthermore, viewing a conﬁguration of
landmarks in a desktop virtual environment from multiple perspectives produced a viewpoint
dependent representation in memory. Subjects had signiﬁcantly greater response times for
new viewing perspectives, as compared to previously viewed scenes. This viewpoint depend-
ent representation of the environment persisted despite learning under conditions of spatio-
temporal discontinuity and changes to an environmental frame of reference.
Key words: direction knowledge, frames of reference, spatial cognition, viewpoint-dependence,
Cognitive mapping research has traditionally focused on how humans
navigate and acquire spatial information about real environments, such as
cities or neighborhoods (Couclelis, Golledge, Gale and Tobler 1987; Gärling
and Golledge 1993; Lynch 1960). However, only recently researchers have
investigated how individuals learn to navigate through virtual environments
and mentally represent those environments (Albert, Reinitz, Beusmans and
Gopal 1999; Darkin, Allard and Achille 1998; Richardson, Montello and
Hegarty 1999; Tlauka and Wilson 1996). While using virtual environments to
examine cognitive mapping may lack a certain degree of ecological validity,
it also offers new opportunities to the cognitive mapping researcher, such as