In everyday life we navigate through known and unknown spatial environments. We have to learn how to find our way back, make a detour around a barrier or find a shortcut. The ability to remember the spatial surroundings and to communicate about space has been crucial to human adaptation and survival. The proposed research project investigates the development of spatial skills, the underlying neural correlates of spatial representations and spatial wayfinding mechanisms, spatial language and their linkage. Recent comparative studies have shown that human infants early in their cognitive development share a spatial memory strategy with all non-human great apes. This strategy preference for spatial cues in young human infants changes during the first years in childhood into a preference for a feature based strategy. Recent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) studies have shown the enormous importance of spatial cues for successful wayfinding. I will push forward these findings and investigate how spatial cues are learned and represented during child and adulthood and later used for actual navigation. The role of language for spatial strategies to date is entirely unknown. Language could play a key role in spatial strategy switch during childhood as well as affect wayfinding strategies for children and adults. The combination of different methods, FMRI, EEG, measurement of eye-movements, response times as well as navigational behaviour collected during initial and repeated spatial cue learning and wayfinding will provide answers to these questions. In sum, the proposed research provides new insight into the nature of human spatial thinking for children and adults.
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