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30-05-2018 | Original Article | Uitgave 8/2019

Psychological Research 8/2019

Spatial mental representations: the influence of age on route learning from maps and navigation

Psychological Research > Uitgave 8/2019
Veronica Muffato, Chiara Meneghetti, Rossana De Beni


Experiencing an environment by navigating in it or reading a map (route and survey views, respectively) is a typical activity of everyday life. Previous research has demonstrated that aging coincides with a decline in spatial learning, but it is unclear whether this depends to some degree on how the learning conditions relate to the method used to assess the recall. The present study aims to shed light on this issue. Forty-six young, 43 young-old and 38 old-old adults learned outdoor environments from a map and a video, then performed sketch map and route repetition tasks. Participants were assessed on their visuo-spatial working memory (VSWM), and reported their self-assessed visuo-spatial inclinations. The results showed that young adults completed the sketch maps more accurately after learning from a map rather than a video. The same was true of the young-old participants (but not of the old-old), though their performance was not as good as the younger group’s. The learning condition had no effect on the route repetition task, however, and only age-related differences emerged, with both older groups performing less well than the young adults. After controlling for learning condition and age group, VSWM and participants’ reported propensity to explore places predicted their accuracy in both types of spatial task. The overall results, discussed in the light of spatial cognitive and aging models, show that learning condition (combined with recall tasks) and visuo-spatial factors influence spatial representations, even in aging.

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