Friday, April 15, 2016 - 14:00 to 15:30

Special seminar

Anchoring the cognitive map: Understanding the role of the scene network in landmark-based navigation

Russell Epstein, Professor of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania
McGovern Seminar Room 46-3189
Public welcome

Seventy years of research, stretching back to Tolman's classic 1948 paper, suggests that humans and animals use internal representations of space ("cognitive maps") to guide navigation from place to place. To use a cognitive map, however, one must be able to anchor it to the environment. That is, one must be able to use perceptible features of the environment to determine where one is and which direction one is facing. In this talk, I will discuss recent work from my laboratory that suggests that a set of brain regions previously implicated in the perception of visual scenes (the parahippocampal place area, occipital place area, and retrosplenial complex) plays a central role in this anchoring process. I will describe a series of behavioral, neuroimaging and TMS experiments that elucidate how the scene network implements three key elements of landmark-based navigation: landmark recognition, spatial reorientation, and representation of the geometric structure of the local environment. These data illuminate the neurocognitive basis of spatial navigation and the functional organization of the visual system; moreover, they provide an example of the enduring strengths (and potential limitations) of traditional cognitive neuroscience approaches that focus on the identification and localization of specific mental operations.