Of 20 New Yorkers interviewed — some beneath Union Square, some in the sun in the park itself — 13 pointed to north accurately and instantly, 4 pointed in the wrong direction, 2 pointed to the sky ...
(Perhaps, when New Yorkers say "I'm going up to Albany," some people are taking that literally.)
They also gave a simple test that seems to me to capture the difference between spatial navigation and narrative navigation, as I used the terms here.
As an extra challenge, we asked a few people to try a “homing task.” Mr. Vinci was one of the participants. Using chalk, we marked Mr. Vinci’s position on the ground, then asked him to close his eyes, take two steps forward, three steps to the right, spin 180 degrees, and then return to his original location.
All the others who were asked to perform this dance reversed their steps to return back to their starting point. Scientifically, this is known as a “route-following” approach; anecdotally, it’s a less-efficient but fail-safe method.
But Mr. Vinci stepped diagonally back into place, using what’s called a “path-integration strategy.”
The "route-following" approach, I think, corresponds to narrative navigation: understanding location through the steps required to get there. Narrative navigators have followed a story to get from A to B, so to get back they can only follow the same story backwards.
Only a spatial navigator would be able to step back diagonally to the starting point. Whereas a narrative navigator can remember a series of steps, and reverse them, the spatial navigator is remembering an actual map, so he can "see" that there is a shorter path back than the one he had taken.
What does this have to do with transit? I think transit agencies need to be conscious of these different styles of navigation when they design information and directions. Only a spatial navigator can tell you if a map works well. Only a narrative navigator can tell you if directions do.