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Orientation (or reorientation) is the first step in navigation, because establishing a spatial frame of reference is essential for a sense of location and heading direction. Recent research on nonhuman animals has revealed that the vertical component of an environment provides an important source of spatial information, in both terrestrial and aquatic settings. Nonetheless, humans show large individual and sex differences in the ability to use terrain slope for reorientation. To understand why some participants—mainly women—exhibit a difficulty with slope, we tested reorientation in a richer environment than had been used previously, including both a tilted floor and a set of distinct objects that could be used as landmarks. This environment allowed for the use of two different strategies for solving the task, one based on directional cues (slope gradient) and one based on positional cues (landmarks). Overall, rather than using both cues, participants tended to focus on just one. Although men and women did not differ significantly in their encoding of or reliance on the two strategies, men showed greater confidence in solving the reorientation task. These facts suggest that one possible cause of the female difficulty with slope might be a generally lower spatial confidence during reorientation.
Nardi, Daniele; Newcombe, Nora S.; and Shipley, Thomas F., "Reorienting with terrain slope and landmarks" (2013). Faculty Research and Creative Activity. 17.