Wayfinding in Children: A Descriptive Literature Review of Research Methods

Yingying Yang, Edward C. Merrill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Wayfinding refers to the process of locating unseen destinations in the spatial environment and is an important spatial skill for children. Despite a growing interest in wayfinding development in children, less attention has been focused on documenting the vast methodological heterogeneity of the existing research body, which impacts the ability to synthesize results across different studies. This review aims to systematically catalog and examine the research methods of the wayfinding development literature. We identified a total of 96 studies that examined 4- to 16- year-old children’s wayfinding of unfamiliar, large-scale environments and were published between 1965 and 2020. Based on the environments, we grouped these studies into virtual reality (VR) vs. real-life and indoor vs. outdoor. The review revealed a vast diversity in research methods regarding participants, environments, independent variables (IVs), environmental exposure, dependent variables (DVs), and cognitive/behavioral correlates. The field has seen growing research interests in VR environments and atypical development. The most common IVs focused on the environmental features of landmarks and turn information. Relatively less research considered how different cognitive processes such as attention, memory, and learning contribute to wayfinding. Various outcome measures have been used to investigate landmark, route, and survey knowledge regarding DVs. This review showed an imbalance of topic areas in the field, systematic differences between different types of studies, and the need for greater attention on a number of important topics. Finally, we provided targeted, detailed recommendations for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)580-608
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Genetic Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2022


  • Review
  • children
  • real-life environment
  • virtual reality
  • wayfinding


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