LONDON: All of us are familiar with
the feeling of being lost or disoriented, an unsettling experience which passes
quickly. It's our brain that
keeps our confusion in check and points us in the
right direction. Research has suggested that animals
and young children mainly
rely on geometric cues to help them get reoriented.
can also make use of feature cues (colour, texture, landmarks) in their
surrounding area, in addition to the geometric cues (lengths, distances,
angles). But which method do we use more often?
Kristin R. Ratliff of the University of Chicago and Nora S. Newcombe from Temple
University conducted a set of experiments
probing if human adults prefer
geometric or feature cues to become reoriented. Their results were reported in
Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The first experiment took place in either a large or small white,
rectangular room with a landmark (a big piece of colourful fabric) hanging on
one wall. The study volunteers saw the researcher place a set of keys in a box
in one of the corners.
The volunteers were blindfolded and spun
around, to become disoriented. After removing the blindfold, they had to point
to the corner where the keys were.
After a break, the volunteers
were told the experiment would be repeated, although they wouldn't watch the
researcher hide the keys.
Unknown to them, during the break the
researchers moved the landmark to an adjacent wall. This change forced the
volunteers to use either geometric cues or feature cues, but not both, to
reorient themselves and locate the keys.
For the second experiment, the
researchers used a similar method, except they switched room sizes (the
volunteers moved from a larger room to a smaller room and vice versa) during the
The results reveal that the brain does not have a distinct
preference for certain cues during reorientation. In the first experiment,
volunteers reoriented themselves by using geometric cues in the smaller room but
used feature cues in the larger room.
However, the volunteers who
went from the larger room to the smaller room in the second experiment also
relied on feature cues, searching for the landmark to become reoriented, said a
During the second experiment, the researchers
surmise, the volunteers had a positive experience using feature cues in the
large room, so they kept on relying on the landmark in the smaller room to
These findings indicate that the brain takes into
account a number of factors, including the environment and our past experiences,
while determining the best way to reorient us to our surroundings.