Grid coding, spatial representation, and navigation: Should we assume an isomorphism?

Arne D. Ekstrom, Sevan K. Harootonian, Derek J. Huffman

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Grid cells provide a compelling example of a link between cellular activity and an abstract and difficult to define concept like space. Accordingly, a representational perspective on grid coding argues that neural grid coding underlies a fundamentally spatial metric. Recently, some theoretical proposals have suggested extending such a framework to nonspatial cognition as well, such as category learning. Here, we provide a critique of the frequently employed assumption of an isomorphism between patterns of neural activity (e.g., grid cells), mental representation, and behavior (e.g., navigation). Specifically, we question the strict isomorphism between these three levels and suggest that human spatial navigation is perhaps best characterized by a wide variety of both metric and nonmetric strategies. We offer an alternative perspective on how grid coding might relate to human spatial navigation, arguing that grid coding is part of a much larger conglomeration of neural activity patterns that dynamically tune to accomplish specific behavioral outputs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)422-432
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • entorhinal cortex
  • grid cells
  • heuristics
  • human behavior
  • spatial navigation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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