GPS versus maps versus direct experience

In Wayfinding with a Mobile GPS System, Ishikawa et al. examined the effectiveness of GPS navigation in comparison to paper maps and direct experience. Since it's a psychological study, the study is focused, more specifically on the user's wayfinding behavior and acquired spatial knowledge. The results show the following patterns:

"Based on information received from one of these three media, participants walked six routes finding the way to goals. Results showed that GPS users traveled longer distances and made more stops during the walk than map users and direct-experience participants. Also, GPS users traveled more slowly, made larger direction errors, drew sketch maps with poorer topological accuracy, and rated wayfinding tasks as more difficult than direct-experience participants. Characteristics of navigation with these three learning media and possible reasons for the ineffectiveness of the GPS-based navigation system are discussed."

go4walk describes some of the factors of explanation:

"The researchers have suggested a number of possible reasons for their observations - the users' unfamiliarity with the technology, the small size of the screen that prevented users seeing their current location and the target at the same time, and the temptation to look at the GPS screen rather than the actual surroundings. This third factor is interesting because it suggests that over reliance on a GPS makes it hard to build up a mental model of your surroundings - where you are and how you got there. The obvious consequence is that should your batteries fail or your GPS 'lose' its satellite fix for some reason - you would become instantly lost with no idea how to get back safely."

Why do I blog this? the paper is interesting as it tries to define the differences between specific medium. Results are intriguing and the last one concerning the over-reliance on the screen versus the surroundings is an important one. It echoes with some results we noticed in the CatchBob experiment with people puzzled by the mismatch between the screen and the context.

Toru Ishikawa, Hiromichi Fujiwara, Osamu Imai, and Atsuyuki Okabe. 2008. “Wayfinding with a GPS-Based Mobile Navigation System: A Comparison with Maps and Direct Experience.” Journal of Environmental Behavior, vol. 28, pp. 74-82.