Research topic: Where we are tellsus where to go: investigating the role of allocentric location cues in visually guided walking using Virtual Reality
Research pathway: Psychology
Host institution: Cardiff University
How do we use visual information to guide our walking? The human walking literature has focused exclusively on two strategies called optic flow and egocentric direction. Using advanced Virtual Reality technologies, my PhD revealed a previously unrecognised role of allocentric location cues.
In my studies, participants walked in virtual environments wearing a headset. The motion-tracking system captured their movement and communicated the information to the headset so that the displayed view could be updated accordingly in real-time. To study the relative contribution of cues, I used a standard perturbation approach. The visual scene was rotated relative to the participant, such that a step straight ahead would lead to a step slightly away from straight-ahead (typically 10°) in the presented visual scene. If the participant walked using only perceived egocentric direction, he or she would consequently reach the target by a curved path (an “equiangular spiral” of 10˚). However, people tend to curve less than 10˚, indicating other cues are used that are unaffected by the scene rotation. These other cues could be optic flow and/or allocentric location cues. By manipulating the availability of cues in the visual scene and examining the resultant shape of walking paths, I found that allocentric location cues play an important role in the guidance of walking.
During the fellowship, I will continue to improve my knowledge about VR techniques and related skills through a placement in the VR industry. In addition, I will further explore the use of VR in psychological and neuroimaging research and aim to establish a link between the VR industry and academia.