Human place learning is faster than we thought: evidence from a new procedure in the virtual Morris water maze




Van Gerven, Dustin

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Research on the neural and cognitive basis of spatial navigation over the last 30 years has been largely guided by cognitive map theory and many of the studies have used a standardized procedure in a single task, the Morris Water Maze (MWM). Although this theory proposes that acquisition of place knowledge should be very rapid, little evidence has been provided to support this point. The present study investigates the possibility that a new procedure for measuring place knowledge in the MWM will show that place learning is faster than previously shown. In a virtual MWM with a fixed goal location, participants were given pairs of standard learning trials plus new explicit probe trials in which they were directed to go to where they found the goal on the immediately preceding trial. The distance between their estimate and the actual location was measured as “Place Error”. Results indicated that Place Errors were surprisingly small after just one learning trial and were equivalent for females and males. These findings provide new evidence for the fast learning proposed by cognitive map theory and demonstrate the value of this new method for measuring place learning.



Spatial navigation, learning and memory, Hippocampus, virtual Morris water maze