Arena geometry and path shape: When rats travel in straight or in circuitous paths?

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We show here that the global geometry of the environment affects the shape of the paths of travel in rats. To examine this, individual rats were introduced into an unfamiliar arena. One group of rats (n=8) was tested in a square arena (2. m×2. m), and the other group (n=8) in a round arena (2. m diameter). Testing was in a total darkness, since in the absence of visual information the geometry is not perceived immediately and the extraction of environment shape is slower. We found that while the level of the rats' activity did not seem to differ between both arenas, path shape differed significantly. When traveling along the perimeter, path shape basically followed the arena walls, with perimeter paths curving along the walls of the round arena, while being straight along the walls of the square arena. A similar impact of arena geometry was observed for travel away from the arena walls. Indeed, when the rats abandoned the arena walls to crosscut through the center of the arena, their center paths were circuitous in the round arena and relatively straight in the square arena. We suggest that the shapes of these paths are exploited for the same spatial task: returning back to a familiar location in the unsighted environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-454
Number of pages6
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2011


  • Cognitive map
  • Exploration
  • Geometric module
  • Navigation
  • Spatial behavior
  • Wayfinding


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