Incidental learning of allocentric and egocentric strategies by both men and women in a dual-strategy virtual Morris Water Maze


In studies of human navigation, an underlying assumption is that, by nature, navigators are proficient with and strongly biased toward using only one strategy, either allocentric (cognitive mapping) or egocentric (stimulus-response based). Further, research often suggests that males are allocentric navigators whereas females are egocentric navigators. We tested these binary assumptions using two versions of a virtual Morris water maze (MWM). The Dual-strategy maze could be solved using either an allocentric or an egocentric strategy. Preferred strategy was tested by alternating test and probe trials. Two “Forced-strategy” probe trials tested navigators’ ability to use their non-preferred strategy. Participants then completed the Place maze that was best solved using an allocentric strategy. In the Dual-strategy maze, there was no particular order of acquisition of a preferred strategy and a quarter of participants switched strategies; this switching was bilateral (from egocentric to allocentric and vice-versa). Navigators were most competent in the use of their preferred strategy. Importantly, navigators did learn (incidentally) information related to their non-preferred strategy and were capable of using that strategy. This pattern of results was shown for both males and females, although females did show a stronger preference for egocentric navigation than did males. We concluded that navigators can use all environmental information available to them and that the tendency to view people as innately allocentric or egocentric navigators does not allow for more nuanced investigations of navigational ability. Such investigations would better inform research into deficits in spatial ability in clinical populations.

Behavioural Brain Research
Thomas Donald Ferguson
Thomas Donald Ferguson
Postdoctoral Researcher