Evidence for flexible navigation strategies during spatial learning involving path choices

Stephanie Doner, Jingyi Zheng, Andrew S. McAvan, Michael J. Starrett, Hannah Campbell, Delaney Sanders, Arne Ekstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In a classic study in 1946, Tolman et al. found that rodents chose the optimal path to a hidden goal location when given the option to take a shortcut. Subsequent studies, though, found mixed results, including a previous study in humans showing non-optimal response strategies. Here, we tested human participants in a virtual sunburst maze identical to that employed by Tolman. Across three different experiments, we found that participants consistently employed non-optimal response strategies involving either following the encoded route or using the light as a beacon cue. Adding distal boundary cues (Experiment 2) or enhancing idiothetic cues (Experiment 3) led to the same overall results. Our findings suggest participants’ search strategies are often suboptimal when given the opportunity to spontaneously take a short cut.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-262
Number of pages30
JournalSpatial Cognition and Computation
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023


  • Tolman replica
  • Virtual reality
  • human navigation
  • navigation strategies
  • omnidirectional treadmill
  • starburst maze

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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