The Contribution of Internal and External Factors to Human Spatial Navigation

A special issue of Brain Sciences (ISSN 2076-3425). This special issue belongs to the section "Neuropsychology".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 October 2023) | Viewed by 7020

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
1. Department of Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome, 00185 Rome, Italy
2. San Raffaele Cassino Hospital, 03043 Cassino, Italy
Interests: spatial cognition; human navigation; individual differences; travel planning; topographic disorientation; emotions; creativity; neuropsychology
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Guest Editor
Department of Psychology, University of Bologna, Viale Berti Pichat 5, 40127 Bologna, Italy
Interests: individual differences; navigational memory; topographical memory; environmental memory; witnessing and reasoning
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Guest Editor
Faculty of Psychology and Health Research Center, University of Almería, Almeria, Spain
Interests: spatial memory; sexual dimorphism; neurophysiology of spatial cognition
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Guest Editor
1. Department of Psychology, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore
2. Martinos Canter for Biomedical Imaging, Harvard Medical School, and Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA
Interests: mental imagery; spatial navigation; individual differences; human–computer interaction

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Orienting in the environment is a highly complex skill, the operation of which depends on different cognitive processes: mental imagery, cognitive style, memory, attention, and problem-solving skills. However, the cognitive processes underlying navigation are not the only ones that guarantee success in orienting themselves. Indeed, several internal and external factors contribute to spatial orientation. Internal factors include personal attributes, gender, familiarity with the environment, and job-related expertise. External factors concern environmental attributes such as landmark differentiations, visual access to different parts of an environment from various points of view, and layout complexity of the environment per se.

A better understanding of how these factors affect our preferred strategies and skills to navigate through the environment is compelling.

It should also not be forgotten that the contribution of internal and external factors to spatial orientation is also important across the lifespan. In fact, studies on spatial orientation in some developmental age pathologies (ADHD, cerebral palsy, genetic syndromes) or neurodevelopmental pathologies (such as developmental topographical disorientation: DTD) suggest its relevance in the patients’ life. Moreover, a better understanding of the factors affecting spatial orientation would be useful, especially in the development of rehabilitation tools.

Furthermore, in healthy aging, spatial orientation, is one of the skills that decays earlier, although some factors (such as familiarity) have protective effects. In pathological aging, it has been considered a neuropsychological marker in the early diagnosis of Alzheimer's. In brain-damaged patients, a deficit in navigation produces difficulty in re-entering daily life after discharge from the hospital.

We are seeking empirical or theoretical manuscripts, addressing the factors contributing to spatial orientation skills. Critical reviews are especially welcome.

Dr. Laura Piccardi
Dr. Raffaella Nori
Dr. Jose Manuel Cimadevilla
Dr. Maria Kozhevnikov
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • spatial navigation
  • spatial cognition
  • human navigation
  • neuropsychology
  • internal and external factors to spatial orientation
  • healthy ageing
  • life-span
  • neurodegenerative disorders
  • orienting
  • spatial memory

Published Papers (6 papers)

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Research

23 pages, 1856 KiB  
Article
Bilingual Spatial Cognition: Spatial Cue Use in Bilinguals and Monolinguals
by Anna Tyborowska, Joost Wegman and Gabriele Janzen
Brain Sci. 2024, 14(2), 134; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci14020134 - 27 Jan 2024
Viewed by 834
Abstract
Structural plasticity changes and functional differences in executive control tasks have been reported in bilinguals compared to monolinguals, supporting a proposed bilingual ‘advantage’ in executive control functions (e.g., task switching) due to continual usage of control mechanisms that inhibit one of the coexisting [...] Read more.
Structural plasticity changes and functional differences in executive control tasks have been reported in bilinguals compared to monolinguals, supporting a proposed bilingual ‘advantage’ in executive control functions (e.g., task switching) due to continual usage of control mechanisms that inhibit one of the coexisting languages. However, it remains unknown whether these differences are also apparent in the spatial domain. The present fMRI study explores the use of spatial cues in 15 bilinguals and 14 monolinguals while navigating in an open-field virtual environment. In each trial, participants had to navigate towards a target object that was visible during encoding but hidden in retrieval. An extensive network was activated in bilinguals compared to monolinguals in the encoding and retrieval phase. During encoding, bilinguals activated the right temporal and left parietal regions (object trials) and left inferior frontal, precentral, and lingual regions more than monolinguals. During retrieval, the same contrasts activated the left caudate nucleus and the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), the left parahippocampal gyrus, as well as caudate regions. These results suggest that bilinguals may recruit neural networks known to subserve not only executive control processes but also spatial strategies. Full article
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11 pages, 2837 KiB  
Article
Anxiety and Depressive Traits in the Healthy Population Does Not Affect Spatial Orientation and Navigation
by Isma Zafar, Ford Burles, Lila Berger, Michael McLaren-Gradinaru, Adam Leonidas David, Inderpreet Dhillon and Giuseppe Iaria
Brain Sci. 2023, 13(12), 1638; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci13121638 - 26 Nov 2023
Viewed by 779
Abstract
The ability to navigate and orient in spatial surroundings is critical for effective daily functioning. Such ability is perturbed in clinically diagnosed mood and anxiety disorders, with patients exhibiting poor navigational skills. Here, we investigated the effects of depression and anxiety traits (not [...] Read more.
The ability to navigate and orient in spatial surroundings is critical for effective daily functioning. Such ability is perturbed in clinically diagnosed mood and anxiety disorders, with patients exhibiting poor navigational skills. Here, we investigated the effects of depression and anxiety traits (not the clinical manifestation of the disorders) on the healthy population and hypothesized that greater levels of depression and anxiety traits would manifest in poorer spatial orientation skills and, in particular, with a poor ability to form mental representations of the environment, i.e., cognitive maps. We asked 1237 participants to perform a battery of spatial orientation tasks and complete two questionnaires assessing their anxiety and depression traits. Contrary to our hypothesis, we did not find any correlation between participants’ anxiety and depression traits and their ability to form cognitive maps. These findings may imply a significant difference between the clinical and non-clinical manifestations of anxiety and depression as affecting spatial orientation and navigational abilities. Full article
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13 pages, 2766 KiB  
Article
Neurocognitive Adaptations for Spatial Orientation and Navigation in Astronauts
by Ford Burles and Giuseppe Iaria
Brain Sci. 2023, 13(11), 1592; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci13111592 - 15 Nov 2023
Viewed by 1209
Abstract
Astronauts often face orientation challenges while on orbit, which can lead to operator errors in demanding spatial tasks. In this study, we investigated the impact of long-duration spaceflight on the neural processes supporting astronauts’ spatial orientation skills. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), [...] Read more.
Astronauts often face orientation challenges while on orbit, which can lead to operator errors in demanding spatial tasks. In this study, we investigated the impact of long-duration spaceflight on the neural processes supporting astronauts’ spatial orientation skills. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we collected data from 16 astronauts six months before and two weeks after their International Space Station (ISS) missions while performing a spatial orientation task that requires generating a mental representation of one’s surroundings. During this task, astronauts exhibited a general reduction in neural activity evoked from spatial-processing brain regions after spaceflight. The neural activity evoked in the precuneus was most saliently reduced following spaceflight, along with less powerful effects observed in the angular gyrus and retrosplenial regions of the brain. Importantly, the reduction in precuneus activity we identified was not accounted for by changes in behavioral performance or changes in grey matter concentration. These findings overall show less engagement of explicitly spatial neurological processes at postflight, suggesting astronauts make use of complementary strategies to perform some spatial tasks as an adaptation to spaceflight. These preliminary findings highlight the need for developing countermeasures or procedures that minimize the detrimental effects of spaceflight on spatial cognition, especially in light of planned long-distance future missions. Full article
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12 pages, 2763 KiB  
Article
Landmark Distance Impacts the Overshadowing Effect in Spatial Learning Using a Virtual Water Maze Task with Healthy Adults
by Róisín Deery and Seán Commins
Brain Sci. 2023, 13(9), 1287; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci13091287 - 05 Sep 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 790
Abstract
Cue competition is a key element of many associative theories of learning. Overshadowing, an important aspect of cue competition, is a phenomenon in which learning about a cue is reduced when it is accompanied by a second cue. Overshadowing has been observed across [...] Read more.
Cue competition is a key element of many associative theories of learning. Overshadowing, an important aspect of cue competition, is a phenomenon in which learning about a cue is reduced when it is accompanied by a second cue. Overshadowing has been observed across many domains, but there has been limited investigation of overshadowing in human spatial learning. This experiment explored overshadowing using two landmarks/cues (at different distances to the goal) in a virtual water maze task with young, healthy adult participants. Experiment 1 initially examined whether the cues used were equally salient. Results indicated that both gained equal control over performance. In experiment 2, overshadowing was examined using the two cues from experiment 1. Results indicated that overshadowing occurred during spatial learning and that the near cue controlled searching significantly more than the far cue. Furthermore, the far cue appeared to have been completely ignored, suggesting that learning strategies requiring the least amount of effort were employed by participants. Evidence supporting an associative account of human spatial navigation and the influence of proximal cues was discussed. Full article
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29 pages, 13361 KiB  
Article
Different Types of Survey-Based Environmental Representations: Egocentric vs. Allocentric Cognitive Maps
by Maria Kozhevnikov and Jyotika Puri
Brain Sci. 2023, 13(5), 834; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci13050834 - 22 May 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1461
Abstract
The goal of the current study was to show the existence of distinct types of survey-based environmental representations, egocentric and allocentric, and provide experimental evidence that they are formed by different types of navigational strategies, path integration and map-based navigation, respectively. After traversing [...] Read more.
The goal of the current study was to show the existence of distinct types of survey-based environmental representations, egocentric and allocentric, and provide experimental evidence that they are formed by different types of navigational strategies, path integration and map-based navigation, respectively. After traversing an unfamiliar route, participants were either disoriented and asked to point to non-visible landmarks encountered on the route (Experiment 1) or presented with a secondary spatial working memory task while determining the spatial locations of objects on the route (Experiment 2). The results demonstrate a double dissociation between the navigational strategies underlying the formation of allocentric and egocentric survey-based representation. Specifically, only the individuals who generated egocentric survey-based representations of the route were affected by disorientation, suggesting they relied primarily on a path integration strategy combined with landmark/scene processing at each route segment. In contrast, only allocentric-survey mappers were affected by the secondary spatial working memory task, suggesting their use of map-based navigation. This research is the first to show that path integration, in conjunction with egocentric landmark processing, is a distinct standalone navigational strategy underpinning the formation of a unique type of environmental representation—the egocentric survey-based representation. Full article
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11 pages, 1460 KiB  
Article
Reversal Training Discloses Gender Differences in a Spatial Memory Task in Humans
by Laura Tascón, Irene León, Rubén Fernández and José Manuel Cimadevilla
Brain Sci. 2023, 13(5), 740; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci13050740 - 29 Apr 2023
Viewed by 1006
Abstract
Over the past few years, spatial memory has been studied using virtual-reality-based tasks. Reversal learning has been widely used in spatial orientation tasks for testing, among other things, new learning and flexibility. By means of a reversal-learning protocol, we assessed spatial memory in [...] Read more.
Over the past few years, spatial memory has been studied using virtual-reality-based tasks. Reversal learning has been widely used in spatial orientation tasks for testing, among other things, new learning and flexibility. By means of a reversal-learning protocol, we assessed spatial memory in men and women. A total of sixty participants (half of them women) performed a task that included two phases: during the acquisition phase, participants were asked to find one or three rewarded positions in the virtual room across ten trials. During the reversal phase, the rewarded boxes were moved to a new position and maintained for four trials. The results showed that men and women differed in the reversal phase, with men outperforming women in high demanding conditions. Dissimilarities in several cognitive abilities between both genders are the base of these differences and are discussed. Full article
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