Research Article: Virtual reality assessment of walking and non-walking space in men and women with virtual reality-based tasks

Date Published: October 2, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Irene León, Laura Tascón, Juan José Ortells-Pareja, José Manuel Cimadevilla, Simone Borsci.


Far space and near space refer to different spatial features in which we unfold our behaviour. On the one hand, classical visuospatial neuropsychological tests assess spatial abilities in the near space; on the other, far space typically involves new spatial memory tasks in which participants display their behaviour in an environment, either interacting with objects or searching for targets. The Boxes Room Task is a virtual test that assesses spatial memory in the far space. Based upon this task, a new test was developed in which participants could not move about within the context, but they could actually perceive it from a specific viewpoint. In this work, both versions of the task were compared with one another. Furthermore, they were also compared with the results of 10/36 spatial recall test, a task assessing spatial memory in the near space. Two conditions were applied in all tasks, both in stable and rotated contexts. Our study included one hundred and twenty healthy young participants who were divided into two groups. The first group performed the Walking Space Boxes Room Task. A second group performed the Non-Walking Space Boxes Room Task as well as another traditional neuropsychological test for near space assessment, the 10/36 spatial recall test. Results proved that orientation in the non-walking space was more difficult than in the walking space. Additionally, our test also showed that men outperformed women in both virtual reality-based tasks, although they did not do it in the traditional 10/36 spatial recall test. In short, this work exposes that virtual-reality technologies provide tools to assess spatial memory, being more sensitive than traditional tests in the detection of small performance changes.

Partial Text

Spatial orientation is essential in our daily life. Human beings need to remember the position of places and objects around them at all times. Although spatial cognition is the focus of scientists’ attention leading to thousands of experiments in animal models, human spatial memory has been the subject to great attention only in the last few years. Virtual reality-based tasks enable the assessment of spatial orientation in different environments in which participants are demanded to solve a variety of problems [1–4].

A five-way ANOVA (Gender x Maze x Condition x Difficulty x Trial) with repeated measures in Difficulty and Trial disclosed a significant main effect of Gender (F(1,112) = 5.36, p = 0.022), Maze (F(1,112) = 11.98, p = 0.0007), Condition (F(1,112) = 40.7, p = 0.0001) and Trial (F(8,896) = 96.5, p = 0.0001) but no significant effects of Difficulty (F(2, 224) = 1.08, p = 0.34). In addition ANOVA revealed a significant main effect of the interaction terms showed on Table 2.

This study compared spatial cognition of men and women in three tasks, two of them based on virtual reality technologies. Our analysis has shown that learning in the NWSBRT is far more complex than in the “walking” version of the same task (WSBRT). The stability of the viewpoint/starting position was associated with a more accurate performance in all the tasks. Furthermore, men outperformed women, committing less number of errors in both virtual tasks. However, no gender differences emerged in the spatial recall task (10/36 SRT).




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