Route knowledge and configural knowledge in typical and atypical development: a comparison of sparse and rich environments

Farran, E.K., Purser, H.R.M. ORCID: 0000-0003-3307-8421, Courbois, Y., Ballé, M., Sockeel, P., Mellier, D. and Blades, M., 2015. Route knowledge and configural knowledge in typical and atypical development: a comparison of sparse and rich environments. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 7, p. 37. ISSN 1866-1947

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Individuals with Down syndrome (DS) and individuals with Williams syndrome (WS) have poor
navigation skills, which impact their potential to become independent. Two aspects of navigation were investigated
in these groups, using virtual environments (VE): route knowledge (the ability to learn the way from A to B by
following a fixed sequence of turns) and configural knowledge (knowledge of the spatial relationships between
places within an environment).
Typically developing (TD) children aged 5 to 11 years (N = 93), individuals with DS (N = 29) and individuals
with WS (N = 20) were presented with a sparse and a rich VE grid maze. Within each maze, participants were asked to
learn a route from A to B and a route from A to C before being asked to find a novel shortcut from B to C.
Performance was broadly similar across sparse and rich mazes. The majority of participants were able to learn
novel routes, with poorest performance in the DS group, but the ability to find a shortcut, our measure of configural knowledge, was limited for all three groups. That is, 59 % TD participants successfully found a shortcut, compared to 10 % participants with DS and 35 % participants with WS. Differences in the underlying mechanisms associated with route knowledge and configural knowledge and in the developmental trajectories of performance across groups were observed. Only the TD participants walked a shorter distance in the last shortcut trial compared to the first, indicative of
increased configural knowledge across trials. The DS group often used an alternative strategy to get from B to C, summing the two taught routes together.
Our findings demonstrate impaired configural knowledge in DS and in WS, with the strongest deficit in DS. This suggests that these groups rely on a rigid route knowledge based method for navigating and as a result are
likely to get lost easily. Route knowledge was also impaired in both DS and WS groups and was related to different underlying processes across all three groups. These are discussed with reference to limitations in attention and/or visuo-spatial processing in the atypical groups.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Creators: Farran, E.K., Purser, H.R.M., Courbois, Y., Ballé, M., Sockeel, P., Mellier, D. and Blades, M.
Publisher: BioMed Central
Date: 15 December 2015
Volume: 7
ISSN: 1866-1947
9133Publisher Item Identifier
Rights: © 2015 Farran et al. Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Jill Tomkinson
Date Added: 14 Oct 2016 15:19
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2017 14:07

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