Induction of spatial anxiety in a virtual navigation environment

Alice Oliver, Tim Wildschut, Matthew O. Parker, Antony P. Wood, Edward S. Redhead

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Spatial anxiety (i.e., feelings of apprehension and fear about navigating everyday environments) can adversely impact people’s ability to reach desired locations and explore unfamiliar places. Prior research has either assessed spatial anxiety as an individual-difference variable or measured it as an outcome, but there are currently no experimental inductions to investigate its causal effects. To address this lacuna, we developed a novel protocol for inducing spatial anxiety within a virtual environment. Participants first learnt a route using directional arrows. Next, we removed the directional arrows and randomly assigned participants to navigate either the same route (n = 22; control condition) or a variation of this route in which we surreptitiously introduced unfamiliar paths and landmarks (n = 22; spatial-anxiety condition). The manipulation successfully induced transient (i.e., state-level) spatial anxiety and task stress but did not significantly reduce task enjoyment. Our findings lay the foundation for an experimental paradigm that will facilitate future work on the causal effects of spatial anxiety in navigational contexts. The experimental task is freely available via the Open Science Framework (
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3621-3628
JournalBehavior Research Methods
Early online date12 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2023


  • UKRI
  • ESRC
  • ES/P000673/1


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