Cognitive Maps

A cognitive map is an internal representation of the landscape. Held in the user's brain, it allows an animal to "visualize" a direct and efficient pathway between two points in the mapped area, even if it hasn't previously used that pathway. Humans are aware of their use of cognitive maps, and there is good evidence that the mapping function resides in the hippocampus of the human brain. Cognitive maps, and long-distance orientation in general, in birds and mammals is a hippocampal function. Terrazas and McNaughton (2000) review work showing that hippocampal volume is correlated with map-based orientational ability in some mammals.

The trouble with designing experiments to test for the use of cognitive maps is that distinguishing map use from simpler orientation mechanisms, such as path integration or direct landmark use is difficult. Gibson and Kamil (2001) showed that at least some Clark's nutcrackers can use a cognitive map. They tested this by having the birds learn small sets of landmarks within a larger landscape, then asking them to transfer these smaller sets of cues to goal locations in the larger landscape. Gibson and Kamil's findings are consistent with cognitive map usage. Interestingly, Gibson (2001) performed the same test on humans. Post-test questionairres showed that the human subjects, even though they may have appeared to use cognitive maps, actually employed a path integration strategy. This finding suggests that results which seem to be explained by cognitive mapping may really be the result of animals using less complex orientation methods.

Gibson BM 2001 Cognitive maps not used by humans (Homo sapiens) during a dynamic navigational task. JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE PSYCHOLOGY 115 (4): 397-402

Gibson BM, Kamil AC 2001 Tests for cognitive mapping in Clark's nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana) J COMP PSYCHOL 115 (4): 403-417

Gould JL 1986. The locale map of honey bees - do insects have cognitive maps. SCIENCE 232 (4752): 861-863

Jacobs LF 2003 The evolution of the cognitive map BRAIN BEHAV EVOLUT 62 (2): 128-139

Ludvig N, Tang HM, Eichenbaum H, Gohil BC 2003 Spatial memory performance of freely-moving squirrel monkeys. BEHAVIOURAL BRAIN RESEARCH 140 (1-2): 175-183

Menzel R, Geiger K, Chittka L, Joerges J, Kunze J, Muller U The knowledge base of bee navigation 1996 JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY 199 (1): 141-146

Terrazas A, McNaughton BL 2000 Brain growth and the cognitive map P NATL ACAD SCI USA 97 (9): 4414-4416

Return to beginning of Chapter 15

Return to Table of Contents

page 15-*
copyright ©2003 Michael D. Breed, all rights reserved.