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Languages: English
Types: Doctoral thesis
Theories of spatial learning, such as those of Siegal and White (1975) and Piaget and Inhelder (1967) have considered active exploration of environments to be beneficial or essential for the development of specific spatial knowledge. Real world empirical research in the form of both laboratory experimental and broader environmental studies tends to support this suggestion, demonstrating that active exploration of an environment, in both children and adults, gives better spatial learning than passive experience. Based on these findings, the working hypothesis adopted in this thesis is that active exploration of a virtual environment (VE) would also result in better spatial learning than passive experience of the same VE. Also considered is the equivalence of real and virtual world experiences, and the degree of transfer of spatial learning between VEs and real equivalent environments. Seven experiments were undertaken, all utilising a yoked active passive paired-subjects design. A range of VEs was employed across the experiments, including a room, a corridor, and both complex and simple small towns. Three studies used children as participants and five, adults, all having both males and females. The key finding was that the experimental hypothesis was supported for children but not for adults. Active child participants (when using a familiar input device) demonstrated superior spatial learning to that of their passive counterparts, but active adult participants did not show superior spatial learning to that of passive counterparts. Underestimation of distances was a universal feature, but was greater in female \ud than male participants. Otherwise, the general equivalence of real and virtual world experiences was confirmed, with transfer of spatial learning occurring from virtual environments to real world equivalent environments for both adults and children.
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