Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 194, Issue 4, pp 541–552 | Cite as

Selective influence of prior allocentric knowledge on the kinesthetic learning of a path

  • Matthieu LafonEmail author
  • Manuel Vidal
  • Alain Berthoz
Research Article


Spatial cognition studies have described two main cognitive strategies involved in the memorization of traveled paths in human navigation. One of these strategies uses the action-based memory (egocentric) of the traveled route or paths, which involves kinesthetic memory, optic flow, and episodic memory, whereas the other strategy privileges a survey memory of cartographic type (allocentric). Most studies have dealt with these two strategies separately, but none has tried to show the interaction between them in spite of the fact that we commonly use a map to imagine our journey and then proceed using egocentric navigation. An interesting question is therefore: how does prior allocentric knowledge of the environment affect the egocentric, purely kinesthetic navigation processes involved in human navigation? We designed an experiment in which blindfolded subjects had first to walk and memorize a path with kinesthetic cues only. They had previously been shown a map of the path, which was either correct or distorted (consistent shrinking or growing). The latter transformations were studied in order to observe what influence a distorted prior knowledge could have on spatial mechanisms. After having completed the first learning travel along the path, they had to perform several spatial tasks during the testing phase: (1) pointing towards the origin and (2) to specific points encountered along the path, (3) a free locomotor reproduction, and (4) a drawing of the memorized path. The results showed that prior cartographic knowledge influences the paths drawn and the spatial inference capacity, whereas neither locomotor reproduction nor spatial updating was disturbed. Our results strongly support the notion that (1) there are two independent neural bases underlying these mechanisms: a map-like representation allowing allocentric spatial inferences, and a kinesthetic memory of self-motion in space; and (2) a common use of, or a switching between, these two strategies is possible. Nevertheless, allocentric representations can emerge from the experience of kinesthetic cues alone.


Spatial memory Kinesthesia Prior knowledge Allocentric Egocentric Path integration 



The authors wish to thank Halim Hicheur, France Maloumian and Guillaume Thibault for their technical help and/or comments on this manuscript. The authors thank Marios Avraamides and two anonymous reviewer for the helpful comments on this manuscript. This study was supported by CNES (France). Matthieu Lafon is in receipt of a 3-year EDF R&D grant and a ‘CIFRE’ grant from the French Government for his doctoral research.

Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire de Physiologie de la Perception et de l’Action (LPPA)CNRS Collège de FranceParisFrance

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