Investigating Reference Frame Utilization and Spatial Navigation Ability in the Context of Human Aging Open Access

Cui, Emily (Spring 2023)

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Aging-related cognitive decline, accompanied by an increasing older adult population, has spurred more recent research on the mechanisms of aging-related cognitive changes. Out of the various aging-affected cognitive processes, spatial navigation has been of increasing interest in studies, as impaired spatial navigation ability is shown to be one of the first indicators of aging-related cognitive decline and neurodegeneration. Although a general aging-related difference in spatial navigation ability has been observed, there remains a need to further understand the specific subprocesses during naturalistic spatial navigation that are most affected with advancing age. One potential contributor to differences in spatial navigation ability between younger and older adults is different reference frame utilizations (egocentric or allocentric). In this project, I pursued the following aims: (1) identify effects of reference frame utilization on naturalistic navigation ability (Aim 1), (2) identify effects of aging on naturalistic navigation ability (Aim 2), and (3) investigate associations between reference frame utilization and aging with naturalistic navigation ability (Aim 3). Overall, the results presented in this project encourages further investigation into the associations between reference frame utilization and aging with naturalistic spatial navigation ability, as considerable differences were found in navigation performance between individuals classified as egocentric and individuals classified as allocentric, older adults (OAs) had significantly decreased spatial navigation ability compared to younger adults (YAs), and finally, OAs classified as egocentric showed considerably decreased spatial navigation ability compared to OAs classified as allocentric, YAs classified as egocentric, and YAs classified as allocentric. 

Table of Contents


           Human Aging 1

           Aging & Spatial Navigation 2

           Measuring Spatial Navigation Ability 4

           Aging & Reference Frame Utilization 6

           Aims 7

Materials and Methods

           Methods Common to All Aims 9

           Aim 1 Methods 10

                       Y-Maze 10

                       City-Like VR Maze 13

           Aim 2 Methods 14

           Aim 3 Methods 15

           Y-Maze Performance Analysis 15

           City-Like VR Maze Performance Analysis 16

           Statistical Analysis 16


           Aim 1 17

           Aim 2 20

           Aim 3 21


           Aim 1 23

Aim 2 25

Aim 3 26

           Limitations 27

           Future Directions 29

           Conclusion 30

Supplemental Materials

           Reference Frame Classification: Addition of Mixed Reference Frame Group 31

           Y-Maze Performance: Probe vs. Non-Probe Ratios by Age Group 35

Y-Maze Performance: Probe vs. Non-Probe Ratios by Age Group and Reference Frame Classification 36


           Protocol 37

Bibliography 40


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