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Perception. 2008;37(11):1677-99.

Learning building layouts with non-geometric visual information: the effects of visual impairment and age.

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Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, N218 Elliott Hall, 75 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA.


Previous studies suggest that humans rely on geometric visual information (hallway structure) rather than non-geometric visual information (eg doors, signs, and lighting) for acquiring cognitive maps of novel indoor layouts. In this study we asked whether visual impairment and age affect reliance on non-geometric visual information for layout learning. We tested three groups of participants-younger (<50 years of age) normally sighted; older (50-70 years of age) normally sighted; and low-vision (people with heterogeneous forms of visual impairment ranging in age from 18 to 67 years). Participants learned target locations in building layouts using four presentation modes: a desktop virtual environment (VE) displaying only geometric cues (sparse VE); a VE displaying both geometric and non-geometric cues (photorealistic VE); a map; and a real building. Layout knowledge was assessed by map drawing and by asking participants to walk to specified targets in the real space. Results indicate that low-vision and older normally sighted participants relied on additional non-geometric information to accurately learn layouts. In conclusion, visual impairment and age may result in reduced perceptual and/or memory processing that makes it difficult to learn layouts without non-geometric visual information.

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