An Exploration of Spatial Memory Through Eye Movements and Navigation in Virtual Reality
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Finding ones way in different environments is a common everyday experience. As experiences navigating an environment accumulate over time, spatial representations of visuoperceptual identities of landmarks and geometric relations between them are formed in the brain. Navigation in a familiar environment may be guided by a neural interaction between different types of spatial representations: visual percepts and long-term spatial knowledge of geometric relations, resembling schemas. This thesis explores whether navigation in a virtual-reality simulation of a familiar environment can be explained by analysis of eye movements during travel periods and the quality of spatial memories, which were acquired when individuals navigated the same environment in real life over months to years. Results show a link between spatial memory integrity and eye movements during navigation in virtual reality. In multilevel models of navigation performance, the interaction between spatial memory and eye movements did not adequately predict outcomes after practice effects were controlled. These findings suggest that analysis of eye movements during navigation in a familiar environment may provide insight into retrieval cues that activate schema-like spatial representations to guide optimal wayfinding decisions.