Spatial Navigation from Same and Different Directions: The Role of Executive Functions, Memory and Attention in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder


To resolve some of the inconsistencies in existing research into spatial navigation in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we tested two large age- and ability-matched groups of ASD and typically developing (TD) participants for their spatial navigation abilities in a route learning task, which has been shown to shed light on the strategies participants employ when navigating complex environments. Participants studied a route through a virtual maze by watching a short video of a first-person perspective navigating a maze. The maze included four four-way intersections that were each marked with two unique landmarks in two corners of the intersection. At test, static images of the intersections, either as seen during the video or as approached from a different direction, were presented and participants had to indicate in which direction they would need to travel (straight, left, or right) in order to follow the originally studied route. On both types of test trials, the ASD group performed worse and their difficulties were related to reduced cognitive flexibility. Eye-movement data and follow-up item-memory tests suggested that navigation difficulties may have been related to differences in attention during encoding and less spontaneous use of landmarks as cues for navigation. Spatial navigation performance was best predicted by memory for landmarks as well as by executive functions. The results are discussed in relation to theories of underlying navigation-related brain regions. More research is needed to disentangle the influence of executive functions, memory and attention on spatial navigation.


The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.


spatial navigation, autism, memory, executive function, task support, eye movements


Ring, M., Gaigg, S.B., Condappa, O., Wiener, J.M. and Bowler, D.M., 2017. Spatial navigation from same and different directions: The role of executive functions, memory and attention in adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism Research, 11 (5), pp. 798-810


Research Institute

Institute for Psychological Science