We’ve all experienced the feeling of not knowing where we are. Being disoriented is not pleasant, and it can even be scary, but luckily for most of us, this sensation is temporary. The brain employs a number of tricks to reorient us, keeping our confusion to a minimum and quickly pointing us in the right direction.
Research has suggested that animals and young children mainly rely on geometric cues (e.g. lengths, distances, angles) to help them get reoriented.
Human adults, however, can also make use of feature cues (e.g. color, texture, landmarks) in their surrounding area. But which method do we use more often? Psychologists Kristin R. Ratliff from the University of Chicago and Nora S. Newcombe from Temple University conducted a set of experiments investigating if human adults have a preference for using geometric or feature cues to become reoriented.
The first experiment took place in either a large or small white, rectangular room with a landmark (a big piece of colorful fabric) hanging on one wall. The study volunteers saw the researcher place a set of keys in a box in one of the corners. The volunteers were blindfolded and spun around, to become disoriented. After removing the blindfold, they had to point to the corner where the keys were.