The lack of spatial orientation often serves as a warning light for a diffused cerebral impairment, such as the one at the origin of a confusional state or of a mental disorder. Topographical orientation disorders may be the expression of memory or attention deficits, unilateral spatial negligence, or elementary visuoperceptive disorders. In a minority of cases, spatial disorientation presents as an isolated disorder and is the expression of a focal brain lesion.

The paper describes the clinical rationale and the technical characteristics of the Virtual Environment for Topographical Orientation (VETO). VETO is used both as a complementary tool for the assessment of topographical orientation disorders and to increase the possibilities of management of these patients from a rehabilitative point of view.

VETO is based on the recent theoretical model of wayfinding in virtual environments proposed by Chen and Stanney (1999). This model suggests that wayfinders generally start from the direct perception of the environment or from the recall of a cognitive map. In terms of direct perception of the environment, landmark knowledge is acquired by directly viewing indirect representation such as photographs. In terms of cognitive mapping, procedure/route knowledge is acquired through direct experience or through simulated experience and stored in memory.

Our hypothesis is that the study of spatial orientation through specific VETO tasks, both in normal samples and in subjects affected by topographical disorientation, can bring greater comprehension and validation of the cognitive models of spatial orientation present in literature.

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