Spatial Cognition and Computation 2: 333–354, 2000.
© 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Place learning in humans: The role of distance and
, JACK M. LOOMIS, REGINALD G. GOLLEDGE and
ANDREW C. BEALL
University of California (
Author for correspondence: Department of Psychology, University
of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Received 5 July 2001; accepted 29 January 2002
Abstract. Although the process of establishing a memory of a location is necessary for
navigation, relatively little is known about the information that humans use when forming
place memories. We examined the relative importance of distance and angular information
about landmarks in place learning. Participants repeatedly learned a target location in relation
to three distinct landmarks in an immersive computer-generated (virtual) environment. Later,
during testing, they attempted to return to that location. The conﬁgurations of landmarks
used during testing were altered from those participants learned in order to separate the
effects of metric distance information and information about inter-landmark angles. In general,
participants showed greater reliance on distance information than angular information. This
reliance was affected by nonmetric relationships present during learning, as well as by the
degree to which the learned environment contained right or straight angles.
Key words: landmarks, landmark-based navigation, place learning, virtual environments,
Many common spatial tasks in large-scale environments require people to use
landmarks in order to establish a memory of their location (a place memory).
For example, a new visitor to a city may establish a place memory of her hotel
by learning the spatial relationships between it and several prominent nearby
landmarks. This place memory will allow her to recognize her hotel when
she is in its vicinity, and it can be used to guide navigation back to it from
distant places (a process known as piloting or landmark-based navigation).
In this paper, we investigate human place learning, focusing on the relative
importance of distance and angular information in remembering locations.
For instance, in the example given above, our traveler can remember her
hotel’s location in terms of its distances to nearby landmarks or in terms of
the relative directions in which those landmarks lie (we often refer to these