Spatial navigation is often difficult, even in ideal circumstances. But navigation can be profoundly impaired in many stroke victims, in patients with Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease, and during the course of normal aging. Losing the ability to navigate can lead to dangerous behaviors like wandering, and to loss of autonomy. One possible way to support navigation is effective communication of easily interpretable spatial information. Schemas - simplified spatial depictions of concepts - offer a representational format in which spatial information can be communicated, preserving analog properties of images and categorical properties of words. Schemas could offer an encoding advantage to impaired navigators, because the capacity to process schemas may be differentially spared in neurodegenerative diseases or strokes. The goal of this project is to understand how the brain represents spatial directions in verbal, schematic, and pictorial formats, and to compare the efficiency with which different formats are processed. In service of this goal, three studies with specific, achievable goals are proposed in the current plan. In these studies, we will test whether schemas of spatial directions are represented bilaterally (using neuroimaging and brain-lesion patient methods), and if schemas are processed and translated more efficiently than words or images (using behavioral methods). We hypothesize that spatial directions are coded in format-dependent and format- independent manners. Findings from these studies will provide actionable outcomes, which will directly improve the communication of spatial directions for patients with brain lesions. In the long term, this project will inform interventions focusing n the creation and use of efficient representations of spatial directions, thereby improving the safety and autonomy of brain-damaged populations.

Public Health Relevance

Spatial navigation is a crucial component of everyday life. Effectively communicating spatial directions will make navigation easier, safer, and possible for those with cognitive impairments like focal brain lesions. This project will investigate the efficiency of communicating spatial information in various formats, and build a foundation of knowledge for how spatial information is represented in the brain. The results of these studies can lead to better tools - maps, augmented reality, spoken directions - better signs, and better inventions to help those who struggle to find their way in the world.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZDC1)
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Rivera-Rentas, Alberto L
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University of Pennsylvania
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Weisberg, Steven M; Badgio, Daniel; Chatterjee, Anjan (2018) Feel the way with a vibrotactile compass: Does a navigational aid aid navigation? J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 44:667-679
Weisberg, Steven M; Marchette, Steven A; Chatterjee, Anjan (2018) Behavioral and Neural Representations of Spatial Directions across Words, Schemas, and Images. J Neurosci 38:4996-5007
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