Scientists to explore brain’s navigational capacity

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Many of us rely heavily on GPS systems to find our way from one destination to the next, but cutting-edge science is revealing that we have innate navigational systems embedded in our own brains.

Four prominent cognitive scientists, including a Norwegian researcher whose discovery of navigation-related brain cells earned him a Nobel Prize, will discuss this area of research on May 27 at the 2016 Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science (APS).

Nobel Laureate Edvard Moser will discuss grid cells, the set of nerve cells he discovered along with his wife and colleague May-Britt Moser in laboratory experiments they conducted with rats.

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Using microelectrodes to record the rats’ brain activity as they moved around particular environments, the Mosers were able to determine that grid cells play an important role in positioning, memory, and navigation.

The findings not only help explain our fundamental ability to interact with our physical environment, they also have important implications for research on Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological diseases that are marked by loss of spatial reasoning.

Barbara Tversky of Columbia University will discuss research investigating how humans, unlike other animals, navigate their environments by making judgments about spatial relations using whatever information they have available.

In addition to her work on spatial cognition, Tversky has made groundbreaking contributions to other areas of cognitive psychology, and she has a continuing interest in the relations between our cognitive systems and the technologies we use to augment them—from cave paintings to computerized visualization. Her work is cited widely by computer scientists, educators, architects, geographers, and psychological scientists.

Menzel is renowned for advancing the honeybee as a model system in neuroscience for understanding color vision, smell, learning, and memory. He will present his research on tracking bees’ flight patterns to examine whether they communicate a flight instruction or a location in their waggle dance (a characteristic figure-eight dance).

Epstein will share findings from brain imaging data to reveal a network of brain regions that we use to set landmarks for orienting ourselves.

The APS Annual Convention attracts approximately 5,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments across the full range of topics in the field of psychological science, ranging from research in brain and behavior to cognitive research to social psychology to cultural and organizational relationships.

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