Spatial Learning: sense of orientation, gender differences, inter-individual differences
Everyday experiences show that people vary strongly in their ability to orient themselves, how they find their destinations, and how they solve spatial tasks. What are the origins of these differences?
Sense of orientation. We view sense of orientation as a psychological construction, a multidimensional set of various competencies and attitudes: “sense of orientation” is neither an organic sense of perception nor a personality trait. “Sense of orientation” is a complex skill that is dependent on learning experiences, competencies, and training. People assessing their own sense of orientation have proved to predict their actual performances in wayfinding and learning in real environments surprisingly well. We have developed a questionnaire for that reason (Münzer & Hölscher, 2011)
Gender differences. Females self-assess their orientation competencies as being worse than males. Stereotypical conceptions of gender roles might play a decisive role here. We are investigating this question in a current study.
Spatial abilities. Spatial abilities refer to cognitive activities in which spatial objects and structures are evaluated and modified by visual-mental imagery. Originating from research on human intelligence, there are a couple of tests to assess aspects of spatial abilities, for example quick spatial evaluation, mental rotation, or the spatial modification of objects. Abilities of spatial visualization play a key role in the acquisition of spatial knowledge through visual dynamic media (e.g., video, animation) or virtual (desktop) environments. Despite expectations, spatial abilities do not offer a sufficient explanation for the differences between individuals in orientation performances in real space.
Münzer, S. & Hölscher, C. (2011). Entwicklung und Validierung eines Fragebogens zu räumlichen Strategien (Development and validation of a self-report measure of spatial orientation). Diagnostica, 57 (3), 111-125.