How Cognitive Load Difficulty Affects Cognitive Mapping and Individual Differences in Navigation
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In order to study the effects of varying the levels of cognitive load and individual differences upon cognitive mapping, forty-eight young adults participated in this virtual navigation study. To compare different levels of cognitive load, half of the participants trained in an Abstract Virtual Environment (low cognitive load) while the other half trained in a Realistic Virtual Environment (high cognitive load). After the training, participants were exposed to a series of navigational and pointing tasks to analyze the effects of the training environments – the different levels of cognitive load. It was observed that Abstraction was beneficial to participants in the training phase for the pointing task. In addition, in the testing phase, there was a noticeable trend of Abstraction also being beneficial for some of the pointing and navigational tasks. However, in one of the navigational tasks in the testing phase, Abstraction was shown to be more beneficial to those with a high spatial working memory. Thus, a lower cognitive load via Abstraction can be beneficial to navigation and creating a cognitive map. Further research should be conducted in which varying levels of Abstraction (cognitive load) is combined with other visual design elements, such as Translucency, in order to analyze if a conjunction of other variables alongside with cognitive load could potentially increase spatial abilities in individuals.