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Ulrich, Susanne; Grill, Eva and Flanagin, Virginia L. (2019): Who gets lost and why: A representative cross-sectional survey on sociodemographic and vestibular determinants of wayfinding strategies.
In: PLoS One 14(1), e0204781 , pp. 1-16 [PDF, 1MB]

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When we think of our family and friends, we probably know someone who is good at finding their way and someone else that easily gets lost. We still know little about the biological and environmental factors that influence our navigational ability. Here, we investigated the frequency and sociodemographic determinants of wayfinding and their association with vestibular function in a representative cross-sectional sample (N = 783) of the adult German-speaking population. Wayfinding was assessed using the Wayfinding Strategy Scale, a self-report scale that produces two scores for each participant representing to what degree they rely on route-based or orientation (map-based) strategies. We were interested in the following research questions: (1) the frequency and determinants of wayfinding strategies in a population-based representative sample, (2) the relationship between vestibular function and strategy choice and (3) how sociodemographic factors influence general wayfinding ability as measured using a combined score from both strategy scores. Our linear regression models showed that being male, having a higher education, higher age and lower regional urbanization increased orientation strategy scores. Vertigo/dizziness reduced the scores of both the orientation and the route strategies. Using a novel approach, we grouped participants by their combined strategy scores in a multinomial regression model, to see whether individuals prefer one strategy over the other. The majority of individuals reported using either both or no strategy, instead of preferring one strategy over the other. Young age and reduced vestibular function were indicative of using no strategy. In summary, wayfinding ability depends on both biological and environmental factors; all sociodemographic factors except income. Over a third of the population, predominantly under the age of 35, does not successfully use either strategy. This represents a change in our wayfinding skills, which may result from the technological advances in navigational aids over the last few decades.

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