Spatial ability in navigation: can working memory and map complexity explain individual differences?
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There is evidence that map information is often stored as a mental image (Rossano, Warren, & Kenan, 1995). Although many map navigation tasks should demand both memory and processing functions (the critical elements of working memory), little evidence exists of any attempts to use measures of working memory to explain performance variance in map navigation tasks (see review by Shah & Miyake, 1999). There has been much evidence in the literature that the working memory system involves functions separate from short-term memory (storage), has a general processing component (central executive), and may possibly include "specialized" components with specific roles for meeting task demands (Baddeley & Hitch, 1994; Salway & Logic, 1995). The current project consisted of a series of experiments utilizing a map navigation paradigm designed to tease out the unique contributions of short-term memory and working memory, as well examine the possible contribution of domain-specific processing capacity to spatial navigation. The results demonstrated that participants had difficulties with maps that were misaligned in respect to the orientation of the person and environment (especially those misaligned 180 degrees). Misaligned maps required additional processing resources that were provided by the working memory system. There was evidence of the involvement of both general and spatial-specific processing resources of the working memory system. The involvement of spatial-specific processing resources was found only in the most difficult map conditions. Short-term spatial memory (storage) was found to serve a significant role in map navigation for easy map conditions and when processing resources were occupied by a secondary task. Participants also demonstrated an ability to adapt to the map task, basing their strategies on the available landmarks and experimental constraints.