Description of Research
The Space and Memory group investigates the mechanisms of spatial cognition. Our research is directed at answering questions such as: how are locations represented stored and used in the brain? What processes and which parts of the brain are involved in remembering the spatial and temporal context of everyday events, and in finding one's way about?
To answer these questions we helped to pioneer the use of Virtual Reality in behavioural, neuropsychological and functional neuroimaging experiments. We also develop computational models of the mechanisms supporting navigation and spatial and episodic memory. These models are based on findings from neurophysiology, such as the representation of a rat's location within its environment found in the hippocampus. Our neuroimaging results show that the hippocampus is involved in human navigation. Where new accurate routes must be computed, good navigators activate the hippocampus more strongly than poor navigators, but the same individuals tend to activate the caudate nucleus when following very familiar routes. Perhaps because of this, activation of the caudate nucleus is also associated with rapid navigation. Remembering the spatial context of an event activates the left hippocampus. Tests in neuropsychological patients show the right hippocampus to be required for spatial navigation and the left in episodic memory. Within spatial memory, the hippocampus is specifically involved when viewpoint-independence is required.
This group based at the ICN has close links with the groups of Francesca Cacucci, Caswell Barry and John O’Keefe involved in single unit studies of spatial learning, cognition and memory.