rk

26 residents of Tübingen (who had lived in Tübingen for at least two years) were put into a virtual-reality headset and seated in a chair that didn’t allow them to swivel. Participants found themselves in the virtual three-dimensional photorealistic model of their hometown, at locations familiar to them, surrounded by fog masking all but the near distance. Then they had to point to an invisible location — say, the main gate of the university or the fire station. The scenes changed, and so did the participant’s spatial orientation. After 60 three-location trials, participants were asked to draw a map of the town including all the locations they’d pointed to. The results: Although participants drew differently oriented maps, everyone performed most accurately when facing north and got worse the further they deviated from north. The only explanation the researchers could figure was that they’d all seen, and internalized, a map of Tübingen at some point, and Western maps are all oriented the same way — north on top.