Age-related preference for geometric spatial cues during real-world navigation

Publication Type: Journal Article
Publication: Nature Human Behaviour, Volume 4, p.88–99 (2020)

Ageing effects on spatial navigation are characterized mainly in terms of impaired allocentric strategies. However, an alternative hypothesis is that navigation difficulties in aged people are associated with deficits in processing and encoding spatial cues. We tested this hypothesis by studying how geometry and landmark cues control navigation in young and older adults in a real, ecological environment. Recordings of body and gaze dynamics revealed a preference for geometry-based navigation in older adults, and for landmark-based navigation in younger ones. While cue processing was associated with specific fixation patterns, advanced age manifested itself in a longer reorientation time, reflecting an unbalanced exploration–exploitation trade-off in scanning policies. Moreover, a battery of tests revealed a specific cognitive deficit in older adults with geometric preference. These results suggest that allocentric strategy deficits in ageing can result from difficulties related to landmark coding, and predict recovery of allocentric strategies in geometrically polarized environments.