Peripheral vision benefits spatial learning by guiding eye movements
The loss of peripheral vision impairs spatial learning and navigation. However, the mechanisms underlying these impairments remain poorly understood. One advantage of having peripheral vision is that objects in an environment are easily detected and readily foveated via eye movements. The present study examined this potential benefit of peripheral vision by investigating whether competent performance in spatial learning requires effective eye movements. In Experiment 1, participants learned room-sized spatial layouts with or without restriction on direct eye movements to objects. Eye movements were restricted by having participants view the objects through small apertures in front of their eyes. Results showed that impeding effective eye movements made subsequent retrieval of spatial memory slower and less accurate. The small apertures also occluded much of the environmental surroundings, but the importance of this kind of occlusion was ruled out in Experiment 2 by showing that participants exhibited intact learning of the same spatial layouts when luminescent objects were viewed in an otherwise dark room. Together, these findings suggest that one of the roles of peripheral vision in spatial learning is to guide eye movements, highlighting the importance of spatial information derived from eye movements for learning environmental layouts.