Searching in an unfamiliar environment: a phenomenologically informed experiment

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences:1-21 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Wayfinding is generally understood as the process of purposefully navigating to distant and non-visible destinations. Within this broad framework, uninformed searching entails finding one’s way to a target destination, in an unfamiliar environment, with no knowledge of its location. Although a variety of search strategies have been previously reported, this research was largely conducted in the laboratory or virtual environments using simplistic and often non-realistic situations, raising questions about its ecological validity. In this study, we explored how extant findings on searching translate to a real-world environment, using a phenomenologically informed experiment. Our findings demonstrate a previously undescribed complex and dynamic interplay of different search strategies. Importantly, our results reveal that: (i) the presence of other people is importantly entangled with the process of searching; and (ii) people frequently probe and switch between search strategies based on local environmental characteristics. Together, our results reveal that search behaviour is critically dependent on environmental features and that searching in complex real-world settings should not be conceptualised as depending on a simple singular strategy. This raises questions about the dominance of laboratory-based experiments and their narrow cognitivist framework, highlighting the value of studying wayfinding in the real world.

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Doug Hardman
Bournemouth University

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