Where is the "where" in the brain? A meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies on spatial cognition

Hum Brain Mapp. 2019 Apr 15;40(6):1867-1886. doi: 10.1002/hbm.24496. Epub 2019 Jan 1.


Spatial representations are processed in the service of several different cognitive functions. The present study capitalizes on the Activation Likelihood Estimation (ALE) method of meta-analysis to identify: (a) the shared neural activations among spatial functions to reveal the "core" network of spatial processing; (b) the specific neural activations associated with each of these functions. Following PRISMA guidelines, a total of 133 fMRI and PET studies were included in the meta-analysis. The overall analysis showed that the core network of spatial processing comprises regions that are symmetrically distributed on both hemispheres and that include dorsal frontoparietal regions, presupplementary motor area, anterior insula, and frontal operculum. The specific analyses revealed the brain regions that are selectively recruited for each spatial function, such as the right temporoparietal junction for shift of spatial attention, the right parahippocampal gyrus, and the retrosplenial cortex for navigation and spatial long-term memory. The findings are integrated within a systematic review of the neuroimaging literature and a new neurocognitive model of spatial cognition is proposed.

Keywords: activation likelihood estimation; frontoparietal; long-term memory; mental rotation; meta-analysis; navigation; neuroimaging; spatial attention; spatial cognition; spatial working memory.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuroimaging
  • Spatial Memory / physiology*
  • Spatial Navigation / physiology*