Virtual Navigation

Our lab uses virtual environment technology in behavioral and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) studies in order to investigate the effects of age on the neural systems that support spatial memory. In these studies, participants are asked to complete a computer 3D virtual navigation task, such as the virtual Morris Water Maze (vMWM) task. This can either be done in the MRI scanner or on a desktop computer.

Use of Virtual Reality to Study Spatial Memory

virtual reality

Variables of Interest:

     1. Spatial Maze Learning Over 5 Trials:

             i. Time to Completion

             ii. Total Distance Traveled

             iii. Information Errors

             iv. Spatial Memory Errors

Control Variables:

      1. Computer Experience Questionnaire

      2. Joystick Visuomotor Control

  • Older subjects commit more spatial memory errors, but not more information errors

 The Virtual Morris Water Maze


The Morris Water Maze is a task that is typically used in order to study spatial memory and cognitive aging in rodents. However, the Cognitive Neuroscience of Aging lab will be using fMRI to investigate neural activation in both young and older human adults engaged in a virtual equivalent of the MWM task. Using the vMWM will allow us to directly compare the brain regions that are activated in humans and rodents while they complete the task. These findings will help us gain a better understanding of cognitive aging and could also inform future interventions.

 Neural Mechanisms of Navigation

1. Studies in non-human species:

  • Hippocampal lesions produce spatial memory deficits

2. Lesions in humans may cause topographical agnosia

  • Parietal cortex
  • Hippocampus/parahippocampal gyrus

3. Functional brain imaging studies (fMRI, PET)

  • Activation in parietal lobe, cerebellum, medial temporal regions

Navigation Activates the Left Parahippocampal Gyrus

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Navigation Activates the Precuneus and Bilateral Parietal Lobe

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