Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology
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Broad individual differences exist in the ability to create a cognitive map of a new environment. The current studies investigated whether familiarizing participants with to-be-learned target landmarks (Experiment 1) or target landmarks plus the order they would be encountered along routes (Experiment 2) before exploring the Silcton virtual environment would increase performance on tasks assaying spatial memory of Silcton. Participants in both experiments were randomly assigned to be pre-exposed either to information about target landmarks in Silcton or control landmarks on the university campus. In both experiments, participants explored Silcton via four prescribed routes and then performed a direction estimation task and a map building task based on memory for the locations of the target landmarks. In addition, participants completed the Spatial Orientation Test of perspective-taking. Pre-exposure to Silcton landmarks versus control landmarks did not affect scores on Silcton-based tasks in either experiment. Some sex differences in direction estimation were observed in Experiment 1 but not Experiment 2. While facilitating familiarity with landmarks did not improve cognitive map accuracy, both sex and perspective taking ability were found to contribute to individual differences in the ability to create a cognitive map.