Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Russell A. Epstein
To interact rapidly and effectively with the environment, the mammalian brain needs a representation of the spatial layout of the external world (or a “cognitive map”). A person might need to know where she is standing to find her way home, for instance, or might need to know where she is looking to reach for her out-of-sight keys. For many behaviors, however, simply possessing a map is not enough; in order for a map to be useful in a dynamic world, it must be anchored to stable environmental cues. The goal of the present research is to address this spatial anchoring problem in two different domains: navigation and vision. In the first part of the thesis, which comprises Chapters 1-3, we examine how navigators use perceptual information to re-anchor their cognitive map after becoming lost, a process known as spatial reorientation. Using a novel behavioral paradigm with rodents, in Chapter 2 we show that the cognitive map is reoriented by dissociable inputs for identifying where one is and recovering which way one is facing. The findings presented in Chapter 2 also highlight the importance of environmental boundaries, such as the walls of a room, for anchoring the cognitive map. We thus predicted that there might exist a brain region that is selectively involved in boundary perception during navigation. Accordingly, in Chapter 3, we combine transcranial magnetic stimulation and virtual-reality navigation to reveal the existence of such a boundary perception region in humans. In the second part of this thesis, Chapter 4, we explore whether the same mechanisms that support the cognitive map of navigational space also mediate a map of visual space (i.e., where one is looking). Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and eye tracking, we show that human entorhinal cortex supports a map-like representation of visual space that obeys the same principles of boundary-anchoring previously observed in rodent maps of navigational space. Together, this research elucidates how mental maps are anchored to the world, thus allowing the mammalian brain to form durable spatial representations across body and eye movements.
Julian, Joshua Benjamin, "Anchoring The Cognitive Map To The Visual World" (2017). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 2376.