Animal Cognition

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 237–247 | Cite as

Evidence against integration of spatial maps in humans: generality across real and virtual environments

  • Bradley R. SturzEmail author
  • Kent D. Bodily
  • Jeffrey S. Katz
  • Debbie M. Kelly
Original Paper


A real-world open-field search task was implemented with humans as an analogue of Blaisdell and Cook’s (Anim Cogn 8:7–16, 2005) pigeon foraging task and Sturz, Bodily, and Katz’s (Anim Cogn 9:207–217, 2006) human virtual foraging task to 1) determine whether humans were capable of integrating independently learned spatial maps and 2) make explicit comparisons of mechanisms used by humans to navigate real and virtual environments. Participants searched for a hidden goal located in one of 16 bins arranged in a 4 × 4 grid. In Phase 1, the goal was hidden between two landmarks (blue T and red L). In Phase 2, the goal was hidden to the left and in front of a single landmark (blue T). Following training, goal-absent trials were conducted in which the red L from Phase 1 was presented alone. Bin choices during goal-absent trials assessed participants’ strategies: association (from Phase 1), generalization (from Phase 2), or integration (combination of Phase 1 and 2). Results were inconsistent with those obtained with pigeons but were consistent with those obtained with humans in a virtual environment. Specifically, during testing, participants did not integrate independently learned spatial maps but used a generalization strategy followed by a shift in search behavior away from the test landmark. These results were confirmed by a control condition in which a novel landmark was presented during testing. Results are consistent with the bulk of recent findings suggesting the use of alternative navigational strategies to cognitive mapping. Results also add to a growing body of literature suggesting that virtual environment approaches to the study of spatial learning and memory have external validity and that spatial mechanisms used by human participants in navigating virtual environments are similar to those used in navigating real-world environments.


Open field Virtual environment Human Spatial Cognitive map Integration Gender differences 



This research was supported by an Alzheimer Society of Canada Grant to Debbie M. Kelly and a National Science Foundation Grant (0316113) to Jeffrey S. Katz. This research was conducted following the relevant ethical guidelines for human research. The authors would like to thank Danielle Fontaine and Jim Reichert for their assistance with data collection. The authors also would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bradley R. Sturz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kent D. Bodily
    • 2
  • Jeffrey S. Katz
    • 3
  • Debbie M. Kelly
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyArmstrong Atlantic State UniversitySavannahUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyGeorgia Southern UniversityStatesboroUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

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