Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Science




Dr. Jennifer Sutton



Periodic testing has been found to improve the accuracy of participants’ cognitive maps when an onscreen map is provided, however, it is unclear whether the same results would occur without the onscreen map. The current study investigated whether drawing a map periodically while exploring the virtual environment Silcton would improve cognitive map accuracy. Participants explored Silcton and were stopped every 4 minutes to either sketch a map of Silcton, identify items seen in Silcton, or colour an unrelated picture, and a baseline group was not stopped. All groups drew a final sketch map and completed a direction estimation task. Results indicated that periodic testing using sketching led to significantly more accurate final sketch maps when compared to periodic testing using identified items but did not result in more accurate sketches across other groups or improved direction estimation scores. Accurate and inaccurate mappers demonstrated improved, but differing, accuracy across sketch development.

Summary for Lay Audience

Accurate navigation is important for everyday tasks such as driving home from work, and we often create a map layout of our environment in our head called a cognitive map. Although most people use cognitive maps on a daily basis, we still do not understand how to make them better or how they develop. One technique that has been shown to improve cognitive maps is called periodic testing, in which an individual is stopped at various times during learning and asked to recall information. Previous research using periodic testing and cognitive maps used a virtual town on a computer and provided an onscreen map of the entire town for people while they were quizzed on where they thought they were located. Although periodic testing resulted in more accurate cognitive map development, it was difficult to determine the role that the onscreen map played in performance. The current study used periodic testing in a virtual town to measure cognitive map accuracy, but without the onscreen map. Participants walked around a virtual town and tried to find eight buildings within a specified amount of time. Four different groups of participants each completed one of the following tasks during their periodic testing: draw their current understanding of the layout of the town as a quick sketch map; check off items already seen in the town on a checklist; colour an unrelated picture; or they were not asked to do any periodic testing. All participants completed a final sketch map of the environment and a task that tested their understanding of the directions between the eight buildings. When we looked at the final sketch maps, we only found a significant difference in sketch map accuracy between the group that sketched throughout and the group that used the checklists, but no differences between the other groups. There were no differences between how the groups performed on the directions task. We looked at the periodic testing sketches and found that all individuals in that group showed improvement in performance from their first sketch to their last sketch.