Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 208, Issue 1, pp 61–71

Dissociable cognitive mechanisms underlying human path integration

Research Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00221-010-2460-7

Cite this article as:
Wiener, J.M., Berthoz, A. & Wolbers, T. Exp Brain Res (2011) 208: 61. doi:10.1007/s00221-010-2460-7
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Abstract

Path integration is a fundamental mechanism of spatial navigation. In non-human species, it is assumed to be an online process in which a homing vector is updated continuously during an outward journey. In contrast, human path integration has been conceptualized as a configural process in which travelers store working memory representations of path segments, with the computation of a homing vector only occurring when required. To resolve this apparent discrepancy, we tested whether humans can employ different path integration strategies in the same task. Using a triangle completion paradigm, participants were instructed either to continuously update the start position during locomotion (continuous strategy) or to remember the shape of the outbound path and to calculate home vectors on basis of this representation (configural strategy). While overall homing accuracy was superior in the configural condition, participants were quicker to respond during continuous updating, strongly suggesting that homing vectors were computed online. Corroborating these findings, we observed reliable differences in head orientation during the outbound path: when participants applied the continuous updating strategy, the head deviated significantly from straight ahead in direction of the start place, which can be interpreted as a continuous motor expression of the homing vector. Head orientation—a novel online measure for path integration—can thus inform about the underlying updating mechanism already during locomotion. In addition to demonstrating that humans can employ different cognitive strategies during path integration, our two-systems view helps to resolve recent controversies regarding the role of the medial temporal lobe in human path integration.

Keywords

Path integration Cognitive strategies Spatial cognition 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan M. Wiener
    • 1
    • 2
  • Alain Berthoz
    • 2
  • Thomas Wolbers
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBournemouth UniversityPooleUK
  2. 2.CNRS, Collège de FranceParisFrance
  3. 3.Centre for Cognitive and Neural SystemsUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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