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Differential Recruitment of Brain Networks following Route and Cartographic Map Learning of Spatial Environments


An extensive neuroimaging literature has helped characterize the brain regions involved in navigating a spatial environment. Far less is known, however, about the brain networks involved when learning a spatial layout from a cartographic map. To compare the two means of acquiring a spatial representation, participants learned spatial environments either by directly navigating them or learning them from an aerial-view map. While undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), participants then performed two different tasks to assess knowledge of the spatial environment: a scene and orientation dependent perceptual (SOP) pointing task and a judgment of relative direction (JRD) of landmarks pointing task. We found three brain regions showing significant effects of route vs. map learning during the two tasks. Parahippocampal and retrosplenial cortex showed greater activation following route compared to map learning during the JRD but not SOP task while inferior frontal gyrus showed greater activation following map compared to route learning during the SOP but not JRD task. We interpret our results to suggest that parahippocampal and retrosplenial cortex were involved in translating scene and orientation dependent coordinate information acquired during route learning to a landmark-referenced representation while inferior frontal gyrus played a role in converting primarily landmark-referenced coordinates acquired during map learning to a scene and orientation dependent coordinate system. Together, our results provide novel insight into the different brain networks underlying spatial representations formed during navigation vs. cartographic map learning and provide additional constraints on theoretical models of the neural basis of human spatial representation.

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