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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

July 1998, Vol. 10, No. 4, Pages 445-463
(doi: 10.1162/089892998562861)
© 1998 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Navigation and Acquisition of Spatial Knowledge in a Virtual Maze
Article PDF (671.02 KB)

Spatial behavior in humans and animals includes a wide variety of behavioral competences and makes use of a large number of sensory cues. Here we studied the ability of human subjects to search locations, to find shortcuts and novel paths, to estimate distances between remembered places, and to draw sketch maps of the explored environment; these competences are related to goal-independent memory of space, or cognitive maps. Information on spatial relations was restricted to two types: a visual motion sequence generated by simulated movements in a virtual maze and the subject's own movement decisions defining the path through the maze. Visual information was local (i.e., no global landmarks or compass information was provided). Other position and movement information (vestibular or proprioceptive) was excluded. The amount of visual information provided was varied over four experimental conditions. The results indicate that human subjects are able to learn a virtual maze from sequences of local views and movements. The information acquired is local, consisting of recognized positions and movement decisions associated to them. Although simple associations of this type can be shown to be present in some subjects, more complete configurational knowledge is acquired as well. The results are discussed in a view-based framework of navigation and the representation of spatial knowledge by means of a view graph.