Can Navigation Research Employ Virtual Reality Techniques Without Reducing External Validity?
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Desktop Virtual Reality is on the rise in human navigation studies. The high controllability of stimuli and the increased possibilities for measurements seem to make it useful addition to navigation research. A major difference between traditional, real world navigation studies and desktop VR studies is the lack of locomotion in desktop VR, which results in reduced sensory input. The consequences this might have on human navigation are not fully known. The aim of this study is to conclude whether VR is a valid research method for navigation studies by comparing navigation performances between navigation with and without locomotion. Additionally, two new types of VR display were tested to study how these displays influence navigation performances. We assessed route memory performance in four conditions: a real world environment, a desktop virtual environment, a desktop virtual environment with additional directional information (compass) and a hybrid condition, in which participants used locomotion to follow a virtual route. The results confirmed that locomotion is important for acquiring navigational information, and survey knowledge in particular. When choosing to apply VR methods in a navigation study, the implications of this decision therefore have to be considered. Providing additional bearing information in virtual environments does not help to overcome the defunct in survey knowledge acquisition. The hybrid condition, which combines high controllability and measurability with real world locomotion, showed a high validity to real world navigation, indicating it might be a useful navigation research method worthy of additional research and development.