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Faculty Sponsor

Carol Lawton; Aleshia Hayes; Ryan Yoder ; Douglas Wallace

Sponsor Department/Program

Psychology; Computer Science; Psychology (Coastal Carolina University); Psychology (Northern Illinois University)

Student Department/Program

Psychology, Biology, Computer Science

University Affiliation

Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne, Coastal Carolina University, Northern Illinois University


Without visual cues, navigation in an unfamiliar environment is guided by self-movement cues, and research with mice suggests that these cues are processed by the vestibular system (sense of balance; Blankenship, Cherep, Donaldson, Brockman, Trainer, Yoder, &Wallace, 2017). In humans, men appear more likely than women to use self-movement cues to maintain orientation in an environment with ambiguous visual cues (Kelly, McNamara, Bodenheimer, Carr, & Rieser, 2009). The purpose of our research was to examine differences between men’s and women’s exploratory behavior in a virtual environment without distinctive visual landmarks. We designed our virtual environment to be analogous to the one used in the previous study with mice. In the current study, introductory psychology students experienced a foggy virtual forest for 8 minutes using a virtual reality headset (HTC Vive). They could physically walk and teleport through the environment. Participants were not given any special task or any instructions on what to do in the forest. We found that men explored more meticulously, especially early on, and at a quicker rate than women. These findings may indicate that men were more engaged than women in mentally mapping the environment. Men were also more likely to report feeling oriented in the virtual environment. This study extends previous findings showing that men tend to have a more accurate sense of direction than women (Lawton, 2010). In addition, we will compare the exploratory behavior we observed in women and men to the behavior observed by Blankenship et al. in mice with and without vestibular dysfunction.


Biology | Computer Sciences | Psychology

Exploratory Behavior in a Homogeneous Virtual Environment