The dynamic process of cognitive mapping in the absence of visual cues: Human data compared with animal studies

Osnat Yaski, Juval Portugali, David Eilam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The present study aimed to investigate the behavior involved in constructing spatial representation in humans. For this, blindfolded adult human subjects were introduced into an unfamiliar environment, where they were requested to move incessantly for 10 min. Analysis of the locomotor activity of the participants revealed the following exploratory behaviors: (1) 'looping'; (2) 'wall-following'; (3) 'step-counting'; (4) 'cross-cutting'; and (5) 'free traveling'. Looping is a typical exploratory mode of sightless explorers, based on returning to a recently traveled place. Wall-following is common in enclosed spaces, whereby explorers follow the perimeter of the environment. Both looping and wall-following are based on an egocentric frame of reference by which explorers obtain information about the shape, size and landmarks in the environment. Blindfolded explorers displayed step-counting in order to scale the environment and the relationships in it. Altogether, exploration by looping, wall-following and step-counting resulted in an allocentric spatial representation. The acquisition of spatial representation was manifested by crosscutting and free travel, with subjects walking in a relatively fast and decisive manner. In light of the above modes of activity, we suggest that exploration of an unfamiliar environment is a synergetic self-organized process (synergetic inter-representation networks, SIRN model); an interplay between external and internal representations. According to this model, the interplay gives rise to an order parameter, such as the environment's dimensions or geometry, enabling progression to a subsequent exploratory behavior. This dynamic and sequential interplay reaches a steady state when a spatial representation (i.e. 'cognitive map') is established.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2619-2626
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number16
StatePublished - 15 Aug 2009


  • Allocentric reference
  • Cognitive map
  • Egocentric reference
  • Exploration


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