How sense-of-direction and learning intentionality relate to spatial knowledge acquisition in the environment Academic Article uri icon


  • People's impression of their own "sense-of-direction" (SOD) is related to their ability to effectively find their way through environments, such as neighborhoods and cities, but is also related to the speed and accuracy with which they learn new environments. In the current literature, it is unclear whether the cognitive skills underlying SOD require intentional cognitive effort to produce accurate knowledge of a new environment. The cognitive skills underlying SOD could exert their influence automatically-without conscious intention-or they might need to be intentionally and effortfully applied. Determining the intentionality of acquiring environmental spatial knowledge would shed light on whether individuals with a poor SOD can be trained to use the skill set of an individual with good SOD, thereby improving their wayfinding and spatial learning. Therefore, this research investigates the accuracy of spatial knowledge acquisition during a walk through a previously unfamiliar neighborhood by individuals with differing levels of self-assessed SOD, as a function of whether their spatial learning was intentional or incidental. After walking a route through the neighborhood, participants completed landmark, route, and survey knowledge tasks. SOD was related to the accuracy of acquired spatial knowledge, as has been found previously. However, learning intentionality did not affect spatial knowledge acquisition, neither as a main effect nor in interaction with SOD. This research reveals that while the accuracy of spatial knowledge acquired via direct travel through an environment is validly measured by self-reported SOD, the spatial skills behind a good SOD appear to operate with or without intentional application.

author list (cited authors)

  • Burte, H., & Montello, D. R.

publication date

  • January 1, 2017 11:11 AM