How you get there from here: Interaction of visual landmarks and path integration in human navigation

Mintao Zhao, William H. Warren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)
18 Downloads (Pure)


How do people combine their sense of direction with their use of visual landmarks during navigation? Cue-integration theory predicts that such cues will be optimally integrated to reduce variability, whereas cue-competition theory predicts that one cue will dominate the response direction. We tested these theories by measuring both accuracy and variability in a homing task while manipulating information about path integration and visual landmarks. We found that the two cues were near-optimally integrated to reduce variability, even when landmarks were shifted up to 90°. Yet the homing direction was dominated by a single cue, which switched from landmarks to path integration when landmark shifts were greater than 90°. These findings suggest that cue integration and cue competition govern different aspects of the homing response: Cues are integrated to reduce response variability but compete to determine the response direction. The results are remarkably similar to data on animal navigation, which implies that visual landmarks reset the orientation, but not the precision, of the path-integration system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)915-924
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number6
Early online date5 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015


  • navigation
  • Bayesian integration
  • cue competition
  • path integration
  • visual landmarks

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