Accurate wayfinding is essential to the survival of many animal species and requires the ability to maintain spatial orientation during locomotion. One of the ways that humans and other animals stay spatially oriented is through path integration, which operates by integrating self-motion cues over time, providing information about total displacement from a starting point. The neural substrate of path integration in mammals may exist in grid cells, which are found in dorsomedial entorhinal cortex and presubiculum and parasubiculum in rats. Grid cells have also been found in mice, bats, and monkeys, and signatures of grid cell activity have been observed in humans. We demonstrate that distance estimation by humans during path integration is sensitive to geometric deformations of a familiar environment and show that patterns of path integration error are predicted qualitatively by a model in which locations in the environment are represented in the brain as phases of arrays of grid cells with unique periods and decoded by the inverse mapping from phases to locations. The periods of these grid networks are assumed to expand and contract in response to expansions and contractions of a familiar environment. Biases in distance estimation occur when the periods of the encoding and decoding grids differ. Our findings explicate the way in which grid cells could function in human path integration.
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