Keywords: wayfinding, cognitive
map, landmarks, gender differences
Gender differences in spatial ability is a heavily
researched topic in psychology. This issue is now being studied further
using virtual reality. There are many contributing factors involved
in how one finds her way. A cognitive map helps an individual navigate
through the world. Cognitive maps allow humans to store and organize
spatial information. One can retrieve this stored information when
it is necessary (O'Neill, 1991; Pedersen, 1999). Wayfinding is term
used to describe how one navigates through spatial environments (Sloan
& Bernstein, 1995). Males are noted to have superior spatial
abilities, such as map reading, when compared with females. Females
rely primarily on landmarks while navigating. Males rely more on
cardinal directions (McGuiness & Sparks, 1983)
Are there strategic gender differences involved in
navigation through a virtual maze? The strategic differences being:
time, written direction, and map drawing.
The participants in this study were 14 males, and
14 females from St. Anselm College. All participants were enrolled
in general psychology classes.
The virtual reality task used Superscape for the
design. Two mazes were designed to conduct the first part of the
experiment. The mazes were identical with the exception of five landmarks
present in maze two. The first maze contained no landmarks.
The maze was set in a large grid. Each left and right turn was at
a 90 degree angle. Both mazes contained nine connectors and six turns.
Each participant was timed using a standard stopwatch. After the
maze was completed paper and pencil were used for the drawing of the map,
and the written direction.
The participant was asked to fill out an informed
consent prior to the start of the experiment. The participant was
asked to do a mock trial using virtual reality in order to practice with
it before the actual experiment took place. The experimenter showed
the participant the correct path through the maze. Then, the participant
was asked to try to repeat it. If the participant got lost at any
point in the maze, it was up to her to stop and ask the experimenter to
show her the correct route again. This cycle repeated itself until
the participant was able to meet criterion. After the participant
met criterion she was asked to draw a map, and write out directions of
the route taken. All results were scored according to a manual designed
by the experimenter
For trial one, males navigated through the maze significantly
faster than females, F (1,28) = 2.93,
p < .10. There
was a significant main effect found for trial improvement,
(2,48) = 5.71, p < .01. In addition to this finding there
was a significant interaction effect for gender * maze, F (1,24)
p < .10. This means that for each trial every participant
Time was a major factor
involved in the current experiment. For trial one, time was a significant
finding. Males traveled through the maze without landmarks significantly
faster. For the rest of the trials, males continued to travel faster
than the females. However, the trial times were not significantly
different. As a whole, participants improved over the first three
trials. This is supported by the significant main effect found for
trial time. In addition to this finding was a significant interaction
effect for gender * maze. This shows that across the first three
trials males and females performed differently on the maze without landmarks,
and performed similarly to each other on the maze with landmarks.
Virtual reality is
becoming a prominent way to experiment within the cognitive realm today.
This study could be replicated in many ways to study a number of different
factors. The current study was done to examine gender differences
in strategy of navigational style using virtual reality. However,
this study could be done in different ways to examine other gender differences.
For instance, while conducting the current study, most of the participants
got lost in the maze at some point. When this happened they were
told to ask the experimenter to show them the proper route through again.
There was a noticeable gender difference when the males got lost.
They took a much longer amount of time to ask the experimenter how to navigate
through the maze correctly. Some of the males actually insisted upon
knowing the correct way through. They just wanted to start over again
and do it themselves. On the other hand, when the females got lost
they realized it faster, and told the experimenter to show them the correct
path through the maze again.
It would be interesting
to design a similar study that examined gender differences in the amount
of time it would take for participants to ask for directions when lost
in a virtual maze. Using one group of males and one group of females
the participants would be asked to navigate through a 15 turn maze.
The high number of turns would be useful to get the participants lost purposely.
Then, once they are lost the timing would begin. The time it took
for the participants to ask for directions would be measured.
The gender of the experimenter
may also be a factor. For males, it could be hypothesized that if
the experimenter is a female they will wait even longer to ask for the
correct path through. If the experimenter is a male, it should be
hypothesized that males will still wait longer to ask for the correct path
through. However, they would not wait as long to ask for help if
the experimenter is male. Though this experiment would be tedious
to conduct because it requires two different experimenters doing the same
experiment, it would be worth while to further examine these gender differences.