The US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) is evaluating the effects of spatial and non-spatial influences on soldiers' navigation choices.
According to NSRDEC, spatial influences such as topography, local and distant landmarks, as well as the sun, can affect decision making when selecting a route.
Similarly, non-spatial influences such as an emotional state, level of stress, mission and task demands, skills, abilities, traits, and past experience in a geographical area, also affect selection criteria.
NSRDEC cognitive science team member Dr Tad Brunye said: "We are still trying to identify and characterise the full range of spatial and non-spatial influences and how they interact with emerging representations of experienced environments."
The research also found that many people will select a route that goes south as they believe it will take them downhill, rather than north, which they believe will lead to uphill conditions.
Brunye added: "This finding has been coined the 'north-is-up' heuristic, and has been replicated in not only the US, but also in Bulgaria, Italy, and the Netherlands."
In addition, right-handed people prefer taking right turns and left-handed opting for left. Many people will select a route that looks straight, although it may have curves ahead.
Brunye is studying these behavioural characteristics to develop a training system for soldiers, which will allow them to take better navigation decisions under different circumstances.
In addition to training, Brunye is also exploring redesigning tasks and support technologies to better match individual and contextually guided soldier capabilities and limitations.
Brunye said: "The knowledge garnered from this research could ultimately affect military strategy, including predicting which way an enemy will go.
"The research also could help predict the movement of friendly personnel who are disoriented or lost. By understanding the way the mind works, we can make some predictions about what people are going to do when they are lost or isolated. This knowledge will help improve survivability and mission effectiveness."
Image: Tad Brunye working with a soldier involved in a navigational virtual reality exercise. Photo: courtesy of David Kamm.