Sex differences in virtual navigation influenced by scale and navigation experience
The Morris water maze is a spatial abilities test adapted from the animal spatial cognition literature and has been studied in the context of sex differences in humans. This is because its standard design, which manipulates proximal (close) and distal (far) cues, applies to human navigation. However, virtual Morris water mazes test navigation skills on a scale that is vastly smaller than natural human navigation. Many researchers have argued that navigating in large and small scales is fundamentally different, and small-scale navigation might not simulate natural human navigation. Other work has suggested that navigation experience could influence spatial skills. To address the question of how individual differences influence navigational abilities in differently scaled environments, we employed both a large- (146.4 m in diameter) and a traditional- (36.6 m in diameter) scaled virtual Morris water maze along with a novel measure of navigation experience (lifetime mobility). We found sex differences on the small maze in the distal cue condition only, but in both cue-conditions on the large maze. Also, individual differences in navigation experience modulated navigation performance on the virtual water maze, showing that higher mobility was related to better performance with proximal cues for only females on the small maze, but for both males and females on the large maze.
KeywordsVirtual navigation Sex differences Navigation experience
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|SBE Office of Multidisciplinary Activities|