Christoph Hölscher at the University of Freiburg and his colleagues said this is the first time that anyone has shown "how different planning and navigation conditions lead to different wayfinding strategies". They asked dozens of participants to plan, describe and walk routes through Freiburg. All those involved were highly familiar with the city. Asked to describe the shortest possible route between two city locations, and then asked to walk the shortest possible route between those same two points, not a single participant followed the path they'd actually described.
"It is noteworthy that none of the participants adhered to the route they had described only minutes ago," the researchers said. "They discarded their previously made plan directly after getting perceptual feedback about spatial properties, and showed little sign of trying to pursue an action sequence that they had previously identified as their own best solution."
The new results undermine earlier claims that routes are generally planned entirely in advance. "In addition," the researchers said, "the results highlight the importance of sensory (visual) feedback from the environment for route planning."
Hölscher, C., Tenbrink, T., and Wiener, J. (2011). Would you follow your own route description? Cognitive strategies in urban route planning. Cognition, 121 (2), 228-247 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2011.06.005
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Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.