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Virtual navigation tested on a mobile app is predictive of real-world navigation performance

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  • Antoine Coutrot
  • Sophie Schmidt
  • Lena Coutrot
  • Jessica Pittman
  • Lynne Hong
  • Jan Wiener
  • Christoph Hölscher
  • Ruth Dalton
  • Michael Hornberger
  • Hugo Spiers
Article numbere0213272
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>18/03/2019
<mark>Journal</mark>PLoS ONE
Issue number3
Number of pages15
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Virtual reality environments presented on tablets and smartphones have potential to aid the early diagnosis of conditions such as Alzheimer’s dementia by quantifying impairments in navigation performance. However, it is unclear whether performance on mobile devices can predict navigation errors in the real world. We compared the performance of 49 participants (25 females, 18-35 years old) at wayfinding and path integration tasks designed in our mobile app ‘Sea Hero Quest’ with their performance at similar tasks in a real-world environment. We first performed this experiment in the streets of London (UK) and replicated it in Paris (France). In both cities, we found a significant correlation between virtual and real-world wayfinding performance and a male advantage in both environments, although smaller in the real world (Cohen’s d in the game = 0.89, in the real world = 0.59). Results in London and Paris were highly similar, and controlling for familiarity with video games did not change the results. The strength of the correlation between real world and virtual environment increased with the difficulty of the virtual wayfinding task, indicating that Sea Hero Quest does not merely capture video gaming skills. The fact that the Sea Hero Quest wayfinding task has real-world ecological validity constitutes a step toward controllable, sensitive, safe, low-cost, and easy to administer digital cognitive assessment of navigation ability.