Spatial memory and path integration studied by self-driven passive linear displacement. I. Basic properties

J Neurophysiol. 1997 Jun;77(6):3180-92. doi: 10.1152/jn.1997.77.6.3180.


According to path integration, the brain is able to compute the distance of a traveled path. In this research we applied our previously reported method for studying memory of linear distance, a crucial mechanism in path integration; our method is based on the overt reconstruction of a passive transport. Passive transport is a special case of navigation in which no active control is performed. Blindfolded subjects were first asked to travel 2 m forward, in darkness, by driving with a joystick the robot on which they were seated. The results show that all subjects but two undershot this distance, i.e., overestimated their own displacement. Then, subjects were submitted to a passive linear forward displacement along 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 m, and had to reproduce the same distance, still blindfolded. The results show that the distance of the stimulus was accurately reproduced, as well as stimulus duration, peak velocity, and velocity profile. In this first condition, the imposed velocity profile was triangular and therefore stimulus distance and duration were correlated. In a second condition, it was shown that distance was correctly reproduced also when the information about stimulus duration was kept constant. Here, different velocity profiles were used as stimuli, and most subjects also reproduced the velocity profile. Statistical analyses indicated that distance was not reproduced as a consequence of duration, peak velocity, or velocity profile reproduction, but was uniquely correlated to stimulus distance. The previous hypothesis of a double integration of the otolith signal to provide a distance estimate can explain our results. There was a large discrepancy between the accuracy with which the subjects matched the velocity profiles and that of distance reproduction. It follows that, whereas the dynamics of passive motion are stored and available to further use, distance is independently estimated. It is concluded that vestibular and somatosensory signals excited by passive transport can be used to build a dynamic as well as a static representation of the traveled path. We found a close quantitative similarity between the present findings on distance reproduction and those obtained from active locomotion experiments in which the same paradigm was used. This resemblance suggests that the two types of navigation tasks draw on common physiological processes and extends the relevance of our results to naturally occurring path integration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology
  • Computer Peripherals
  • Distance Perception / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kinesthesis / physiology*
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Microcomputers
  • Middle Aged
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Otolithic Membrane / innervation
  • Robotics
  • Sensory Deprivation / physiology*