Traveling in the dark: The legibility of a regular and predictable structure of the environment extends beyond its borders

Osnat Yaski, Juval Portugali, David Eilam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The physical structure of the surrounding environment shapes the paths of progression, which in turn reflect the structure of the environment and the way that it shapes behavior. A regular and coherent physical structure results in paths that extend over the entire environment. In contrast, irregular structure results in traveling over a confined sector of the area. In this study, rats were tested in a dark arena in which half the area contained eight objects in a regular grid layout, and the other half contained eight objects in an irregular layout. In subsequent trials, a salient landmark was placed first within the irregular half, and then within the grid. We hypothesized that rats would favor travel in the area with regular order, but found that activity in the area with irregular object layout did not differ from activity in the area with grid layout, even when the irregular half included a salient landmark. Thus, the grid impact in one arena half extended to the other half and overshadowed the presumed impact of the salient landmark. This could be explained by mechanisms that control spatial behavior, such as grid cells and odometry. However, when objects were spaced irregularly over the entire arena, the salient landmark became dominant and the paths converged upon it, especially from objects with direct access to the salient landmark. Altogether, three environmental properties: (i) regular and predictable structure; (ii) salience of landmarks; and (iii) accessibility, hierarchically shape the paths of progression in a dark environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-81
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2012


FundersFunder number
Israel Science Foundation177/09


    • Exploration
    • Legibility
    • Navigation
    • Odometer
    • Orientation
    • Spatial behavior


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