Monday, October 7, 2019

Navigating 'Neuralville': Virtual town helps map brain functions

While a PhD student at Emory, Andrew Persichetti developed experiments based on a virtual town he created, called "Neuralville," above, and a simple video game. "One of my favorite things about being a scientist is getting to design experiments," he says.

Psychologists at Emory University have found that the human brain uses three distinct systems to perceive our environment — one for recognizing a place, another for navigating through that place and a third for navigating from one place to another.

For a new paper, they designed experiments involving a simulated town and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to gain new insights into such systems. Their results, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), have implications ranging from more precise guidance for surgeons who operate on the brain to better computer vision systems for self-driving cars.

“We’re mapping the functions of the brain’s cortex with respect to our ability to recognize and get around our world,” says Daniel Dilks, Emory associate professor of psychology and senior author of the study. “The PNAS paper provides the last big piece in the puzzle.”

The experiments showed that the brain’s parahippocampal place area is involved in recognizing a particular kind of place in the virtual town, while the brain’s retrosplenial complex is involved in mentally mapping the locations of particular places in the town.

Read the full story here.