Dr. Kelly was recently awarded $230,000 from the National Science Foundation to study human navigation.
Navigating successfully from one place to another can require difficult decisions. We often need to consider the costs and the benefits of possible routes. For example, the best walking path between downtown buildings may be a short outdoor path when the weather is pleasant or a longer path through indoor passageways during overly hot or cold months. We also use our knowledge to make decisions about where to search for something that we need. Experienced drivers know, for example, that a strip mall is a better place to find a gas station than is a residential neighborhood. We also may need to decide whether we know an environment well enough to rely on our memories and sense of direction, or should use the mapping app on our cell phones. This research investigates how people make these sorts of decisions, deal with conflicting sources of information (e.g., our sense of direction indicates that we should turn left but a familiar landmark indicates that we should turn right), and use navigation aids (e.g., an overhead map of the environment). We use mathematical models of people’s choices and actions to understand how the human brain stores and uses spatial knowledge for navigation.