The authors of the new study are scientists from the University of Arizona. They hypothesized that the brain might view similar rooms as more dissimilar than rooms that really have nothing in common.
In the experiment of scientists, 27 people watched the video from the point of view of a hero who walks through three virtual cities. The cities looked almost the same: each had a circular green field with one store in the center, and six other stores were located on the outskirts. All shops were located in the same locations in every city, but not every city had the same shops. Each city had one unique store.
Participants were asked to remember where each store was located in each city, how they were positioned relative to each other, and how long it took to travel between them. The volunteers were then asked questions about city planning. Those who scored at least 80% on the test watched the video and answered questions again, but this time from inside the MRI scanner.
The patterns of brain activity were very similar to each other, since the cities themselves are very similar. But when participants were asked about stores located in more than one city, brain activity was surprisingly different. This indicated that the participants’ brains were treating the same stores as if they were more dissimilar than two completely different stores located in different cities.
This explains why it is difficult for the brain to navigate in actually similar rooms: it is used to treating them as if they were very different.