Human spatial representation: what we cannot learn from the studies of rodent navigation

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Studies of human and rodent navigation often reveal a remarkable cross-species similarity between the cognitive and neural mechanisms of navigation. Such cross-species resemblance often overshadows some critical differences between how humans and nonhuman animals navigate. In this review, I first argued that a navigation system requires both a storage system (i.e., representing spatial information) and a positioning system (i.e., sensing spatial information) to operate. I then argued that the way humans represent spatial information is different from that inferred from the cellular activity observed during rodent navigation. Such difference spans the whole hierarchy of spatial representation, from representing the structure of environment to the representation of sub-regions of an environment, routes and paths, and the distance and direction relative to a goal location. These cross-species inconsistencies suggested that what we learned from rodent navigation does not always transferable to human navigation. Finally, I argue for closing the loop for the dominant, unidirectional animal-to-human approach in navigation research, so that insights from behavioral studies of human navigation may also flow back to shed light on the cellular mechanisms of navigation for both humans and other mammals (i.e., a human-to-animal approach).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2453-2465
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number5
Early online date22 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


  • navigation
  • spatial representation
  • path integration
  • grid cell
  • place cell

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