Navigational Experience and the Preservation of Spatial Abilities into Old Age Among a Tropical Forager‐Farmer Population

Topics in Cognitive Science 15 (1):187-212 (2023)
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Abstract

Navigational performance responds to navigational challenges, and both decline with age in Western populations as older people become less mobile. But mobility does not decline everywhere; Tsimané forager-farmers in Bolivia remain highly mobile throughout adulthood, traveling frequently by foot and dugout canoe for subsistence and social visitation. We, therefore, measured both natural mobility and navigational performance in 305 Tsimané adults, to assess differences with age and to test whether greater mobility was related to better navigational performance across the lifespan. Daily mobility was measured by GPS tracking, regional mobility through interview, navigational performance through pointing accuracy and perspective taking in environmental space, and mental rotation by a computerized task. Although mental rotation and spatial perspective taking declined with age, mobility and pointing accuracy remained high from mid-life through old age. Greater regional mobility was associated with greater accuracy at pointing and perspective taking, suggesting that spatial experience at environmental scales may help maintain navigational performance in later adulthood.

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