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"Spatial Circumstance" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Some people always know how find their way around a building while others have difficulty doing so. Differences among people that include spatial skills, experience, and preferred strategies for way finding are part of what determines whether people get lost inside buildings--and psychological scientists could help architects understand where and why people might get lost in their buildings, according to the authors of an article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

You Are -- Here.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Work led by cognitive scientists at Notre Dame could be of some help to those of us who easily get lost in large buildings -- who are, let us say, "directionally challenged?"

I mean it sometimes I get in these places and I feel like a rat in a maze. This new information shows there may be better tacks one can take to navigate based on the way one's own brain works. Here are the 3 different factors that may influence your ability to find your way. Lead researcher Laura Carlson:

(Laura) "One is: features of the building itself so, good lines of sight if there's symmetry, good signage in the building might help. Another is the "cognitive map," so that's just this internal representation that you build that has elements of the building. So some objects that you pass by, landmarks, certain paths, and so on and then the third factor are things about the person navigating themselves they might be someone who never gets lost, they might be someone who gets lost all the time and they may have different strategies about encountering in a novel space."

The team shows how using different strategies may help. For instance, you might want to build that GPS in your head using landmarks instead of relying on remembering that series of right and left turns. This research could give architects a blueprint for creating buildings that have features that make them a lot more maneuverable.

Now, how do I get out of here?

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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