An important step toward understanding the role of body-based cues on human spatial memory for large-scale environments

Derek J. Huffman, Arne D. Ekstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Moving our body through space is fundamental to human navigation; however, technical and physical limitations have hindered our ability to study the role of these body-based cues experimentally. We recently designed an experiment using novel immersive virtual-reality technology, which allowed us to tightly control the availability of body-based cues to determine how these cues influence human spatial memory [Huffman, D. J., & Ekstrom, A. D. A modality-independent network underlies the retrieval of large-scale spatial environments in the human brain. Neuron, 104, 611–622, 2019]. Our analysis of behavior and fMRI data revealed a similar pattern of results across a range of body-based cues conditions, thus suggesting that participants likely relied primarily on vision to form and retrieve abstract, holistic representations of the large-scale environments in our experiment. We ended our paper by discussing a number of caveats and future directions for research on the role of body-based cues in human spatial memory. Here, we reiterate and expand on this discussion, and we use a commentary in this issue by A. Steel, C. E. Robertson, and J. S. Taube (Current promises and limitations of combined virtual reality and functional magnetic resonance imaging research in humans: A commentary on Huffman and Ekstrom (2019). Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 2020) as a helpful discussion point regarding some of the questions that we think will be the most interesting in the coming years. We highlight the exciting possibility of taking a more naturalistic approach to study the behavior, cognition, and neuroscience of navigation. Moreover, we share the hope that researchers who study navigation in humans and nonhuman animals will syner-gize to provide more rapid advancements in our understanding of cognition and the brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-179
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of cognitive neuroscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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