AN INVESTIGATION OF THE MECHANISMS SUPPORTING NAVIGATION
USING VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENTS
A Thesis Presented to the
FACULTY OF THE USC GRADUATE SCHOOL
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
In Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree
MASTER OF ARTS
Copyright 2012 Aditya Prasad
How do people navigate in an enclosed environment? Previous research suggests either an image-matching system that stores environmental information in 2D snapshots or a domain-specific geometric system that records surface layout in encapsulated representations. These mechanisms have largely been studied, across species and human development, in full scale settings where precise control of environmental information is not possible. The current study seeks to establish a computer-based testing methodology utilizing virtual environments in which all visual information can be controlled and systematically varied in order to determine the precise contents of the mental representations used to facilitate navigation. Four experiments investigate whether people can form mental representations of virtual environments and whether the characteristics of these representations support the predictions of an image-matching system or a geometric module. Results indicate that surface layout geometry is encoded, but the possibility of a snapshot-based system functioning simultaneously is not entirely ruled out.
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