New preprint on bioRxiv

Our new preprint on learning to physically navigate an abstract quantity space is now on bioRxiv.

In this project, we used the immersive virtual reality system at Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience in Trondheim to test whether people can learn to navigate an abstract space. The dimensions of this space were made up by the number of shapes displayed. In one group, participants were taking actual steps on a motion platform to move through this quantity space, which meant to increase or decrease the number of shapes shown. The color of the shapes indicated the direction in which participants were facing and they could turn to change direction. A second group of participants used a joystick to move forward and turn around. We found that both groups learned to navigate this space. Further, they accurately figured out distances and directions to goals — just like one would have to when planning a route to a target based on a cognitive map.

This project was led by Doerte Kuhrt and Natalie St. John and I supervised it together with Raphael Kaplan and Christian Doeller. The preprint is now on bioRxiv and you can directly download the PDF.

D Kuhrt+, NR St. John+, JLS Bellmund, R Kaplan, CF Doeller (2020). An immersive first-person navigation task forabstract knowledge acquisition. bioRxiv. doi:
+: these authors contributed equally to this work
‡: these authors jointly supervised this work

Advances in virtual reality (VR) technology have greatly benefited spatial navigation research. By presenting space in a controlled manner, changing aspects of the environment one at a time or manipulating the gain from different sensory inputs, the mechanisms underlying behaviour can be investigated. In parallel, a growing body of evidence suggests that the processes involved in spatial navigation extend to non-spatial domains. Here, we leverage VR technology advances to test whether participants can navigate abstract knowledge. We designed a two-dimensional quantity space - presented using a head-mounted display - to test if participants can navigate abstract knowledge using a first-person perspective navigation paradigm. To investigate the effect of physical movement, we divided participants into two groups: one walking and rotating on a motion platform, the other group using a gamepad to move through the abstract space. We found that both groups learned to navigate using a first-person perspective and formed accurate representations of the abstract space. Interestingly, exploratory behaviour in the abstract space resembled behavioural patterns observed in spatial navigation studies. Notably, both groups demonstrated similar patterns of learning. Taken together, these results imply that both self-movement and remote exploration can be used to learn the relational mapping between abstract, non-spatial stimuli.