Interactivity in map learning: Does passive observation improve spatial recall?

Author: Matthew Knight

Knight, Matthew, 2017 Interactivity in map learning: Does passive observation improve spatial recall?, Flinders University, School of Psychology

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The primary aim of this thesis is to identify the role of interactivity in map learning. Several definitions of interactivity exist such as those which emphasise control of movement, decision making, or rehearsal of spatial information (Chrastil & Warren, 2012; Nori, Grandicelli, & Giusberti, 2009; Vecchi & Cornoldi, 1999). In the present context, the phrase “interactivity” is used as a broad term for active and passive spatial learning. No prior studies have established whether activity or passive observation is beneficial to acquiring information from maps, highlighting the novelty of this line of research. Past work on interactivity with stimuli other than maps has sometimes suggested that active control is beneficial (Appleyard, 1970; Hahm et al., 2007). However, this finding has been inconsistent, with several studies showing no effect of interactivity (Foreman, Sandamas, & Newson, 2004; Wilson, 1999; Wilson, Foreman, Gillett, & Stanton, 1997) and others identifying a passive advantage (Experiments 2 & 3, Dodd & Shumborksi, 2009; Knight & Tlauka, 2017; Experiment 1, Wilson & Péruch, 2002). In the current research, the approach used to identify an explanation for the inconsistency in prior tests of interactivity relies on the working memory model (Baddeley & Hitch, 1974).

This thesis consists of six experiments, in which pairs of active and passive participants explored a map. The map was covered by a sheet of cardboard with a small hole in the centre. Active participants controlled exploration by moving the sheet of cardboard such that the central hole exposed different areas of the map. Yoked passive participants observed map exploration without communicating with the active participant. The map was explored either with or without a concurrent interference task. In Experiments 1-4, the modality of the interference task was altered between experiments to isolate the effect of loading different components of working memory (i.e., visuospatial sketchpad, phonological loop, central executive). Experiments 5 and 6 evaluated different map exploration methods to identify whether subjects were influenced by a goal-focused incentive. Goal-focussed exploration was intended to increase the ecological validity of the map learning task. In all experiments map recall was measured by a pointing task which required participants to imagine pointing toward locations on the map, and a drawing task in which participants sketched the explored map from memory.

The results for Experiment 1 demonstrated an interaction between visuospatial load and interactivity. Among subjects who conducted visuospatial interference during learning (i.e., high load), active learners were more likely to forget to include landmarks in their map drawings relative to passive subjects. In contrast, interactivity had no effect on landmark recall for subjects who explored the map without interference (i.e., low load). In addition, map learning was negatively affected by high visuospatial load. Experiments 2-4 replicated the detrimental effect of high load, such that high verbal (Experiments 2 and 3) and central executive (Experiment 4) demand impaired map recall. The results of Experiments 5 and 6 showed that the detrimental effect of high visuospatial load was retained when learners were given goal-focused instructions. The interaction between interactivity and cognitive load did not replicate in Experiments 2-6, and no experiments revealed a main effect of interactivity.

Taken together the results of Experiments 1-6 suggest that active map learning may demand greater cognitive resources than passive observation, however this does not result in a consistent disadvantage even under conditions of high task demand. It is therefore suggested that active advantages in spatial learning tasks are context dependent. The reliable dual-task interference effects provide evidence that map learning relies on multimodal processing in working memory (i.e., visuospatial, verbal, and central executive), as opposed to being an exclusively visuospatial task.

Keywords: Interactivity, working memory, map learning, maps, spatial memory, spatial learning, cognition, multimodal learning, navigation, visuospatial memory, activity, passive observation

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: School of Psychology
Supervisor: Dr Michael Tlauka