Spatial orientation is a substantial component of the sense of presence in real and virtual environments. Virtual environments have amazing versatility in terms of the possible modes of “entering” them, the positions occupants can take up within or in relation to them, and the ways virtual environments can be embedded within real ones. A virtual environment that differs too sharply in these respects from the normal terrestrial environment may challenge users' abilities to develop spatial orientation and a sense of presence within it, and to acquire spatial training that will transfer to real situations. We learned this fact while analyzing spatial orientation and presence in a variety of real experimental environments, including ones involving nonterrestrial gravitoinertial force backgrounds. One environment we investigated was “microgravity,” in which subjects can free float and be exposed to unique visual perspectives and patterns of touch and pressure cues on the body surface. A second was a rotating “artificial gravity” environment embedded within the larger context of a stationary laboratory complex. Our observations emphasize visual, vestibular, and somesthetic cues in construction of spatial representations of familiar environments. However, we have found that multiple levels of such representations exist, which interact with larger spatial constructs. The cognitive map of an environment depends on its represented embedding within associated environments and the directionality of modes of access between them. This dependency is reflected in the “wrong door phenomenon” that results when an individual enters a familiar environment from a nonfamiliar access position and becomes disoriented.

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