Route learning in Williams syndrome

Together with collaborators Emily Farran (IoE) and Susie Formby I am running an exciting project looking at eye movements in route learning in Williams syndrome (WS). We are interested in how people navigate their way between different places. This skill enables people to learn a route from home to school, re-orientate when lost and to give directions. Landmarks provide crucial information for route learning, they enable us to find our way from A to B by acting as beacons (a tall tree) or reference points (a post box). The ability to learn routes and use landmarks to navigate is an essential skill for independent living.

Our study uses a Virtual Environment (VE) to present computer mazes and eye tracking to investigate landmark use during the learning process. Past research has investigated landmark use by measuring recall of landmarks after participants have learnt a route. Our research is very exciting as it is the first to combine route learning and eye tracking (using Tobii), which will enable measurement of attention to landmarks during route learning. In typical development (TD), determining which landmarks are relevant and use of landmarks when navigating develops with chronological age (CA). We expect that individuals with WS will find it more difficult than TD participants to learn a route through a maze, and that WS individuals may not pay attention to landmarks in the same way as TD participants.

Over the next few months, we will be recruiting participants to take part in the study at Kingston University. Our study will enable assessment of how route learning changes in childhood and if route learning in WS follows a similar pattern of development, or if people with WS use a different strategy to complete route learning tasks. Our findings will enable a better understanding of the typical development of route learning and landmark use, and this in turn will inform how navigation skills can be improved in WS.

This study is funded by the British Academy.