Foundations of search and navigation
Lead by Dr Alastair D. Smith and Rory Baxter
Our research group is interested in the processes that allow us to learn, represent, and act upon the spatial world around us. Immersive VR technology provides an unparalleled opportunity to perform controlled laboratory studies of naturalistic large-scale human exploratory behaviour, and our wireless facilities enable the creation of experimental spaces for participants to freely interact with. Our current focus is on using VR to perform multi-trial empirical examinations of search and navigation, in both typical and atypical participants. We are currently examining place learning behaviour, using a paradigm that allows us to dissociate egocentric and allocentric contributions to basic navigation. This not only facilitates translational research of processes that are known to rely upon self-movement information in the agent, but it also provides a method for understanding differences in basic navigational abilities associated with ageing, neurological impairment (e.g. hydrocephalus, dementia), atypical development (e.g. autism, Williams syndrome), and different psychological states (e.g. anxiety). To examine more integrative behaviours, we have created more complex environments to study how participants use spatial cues to search for targets distributed across three-dimensional planes, and to explore the underpinnings of route learning and wayfinding within real-world scenes. Across all of these navigational contexts, we are also assessing whether spatial abilities can be improved by neuromodulation techniques (tDCS and tACS) and by cognitive intervention. Our work is funded by the ESRC, the EPSRC, and DSTL.