Development of cue integration in human navigation.
Nardini M., Jones P., Bedford R., Braddick O.
Mammalian navigation depends both on visual landmarks and on self-generated (e.g., vestibular and proprioceptive) cues that signal the organism's own movement [1-5]. When these conflict, landmarks can either reset estimates of self-motion or be integrated with them [6-9]. We asked how humans combine these information sources and whether children, who use both from a young age [10-12], combine them as adults do. Participants attempted to return an object to its original place in an arena when given either visual landmarks only, nonvisual self-motion information only, or both. Adults, but not 4- to 5-year-olds or 7- to 8-year-olds, reduced their response variance when both information sources were available. In an additional "conflict" condition that measured relative reliance on landmarks and self-motion, we predicted behavior under two models: integration (weighted averaging) of the cues and alternation between them. Adults' behavior was predicted by integration, in which the cues were weighted nearly optimally to reduce variance, whereas children's behavior was predicted by alternation. These results suggest that development of individual spatial-representational systems precedes development of the capacity to combine these within a common reference frame. Humans can integrate spatial cues nearly optimally to navigate, but this ability depends on an extended developmental process.