The mental representation of space: Forms and mechanisms of short-term encoding and maintenance of spatial information

The mental representation of space: Forms and mechanisms of short-term encoding and maintenance of spatial information

ARIS Z5-50177, in progress (01.10.2023 - 30.09.2025), PI dr. Nina Purg

Status: in progress
Primary investigator: dr. Nina Purg
Duration: 01.10.2023 - 30.09.2025
Basic information on Sicris.


Spatial information is an important part of our perception and interaction with the surrounding world. The ability of our brain to encode and maintain spatial information, required for an ongoing task, is called spatial working memory. Spatial working memory is consistently characterized by persistent activity in frontal and parietal brain areas, which is thought to reflect the engagement of these areas in active maintenance of spatial representations. However, the question remains what is the nature of encoded spatial representations, and how they change in response to task demands or in relation to individual differences.

The main goal of the proposed project is to increase knowledge of behavioral and neural mechanisms of encoding, maintenance, and use of spatial representations in working memory. Specifically, we intend to pursue three aims. Our first aim is to identify brain areas that are involved in the encoding and storage of spatial representations. The second aim is to identify and characterize different types of spatial representations used by the brain. The third aim is to investigate the flexibility and interactions in the use of spatial representations depending on demands of an ongoing task or individual differences.

To address these aims, we plan to use a range of behavioral, physiological, and analytical research approaches, which will provide a reliable and effective investigation of the content of brain activity during spatial working memory. The proposed project will consist of three studies, each addressing a specific research question. The first study will investigate the distinction between polar and place coding of stimulus location during working memory. The second study will address the difference between allocentric and egocentric coding of spatial positions. And the third study will explore the retrospective sensory and prospective motor strategies used during spatial working memory. However, all studies will examine different aspects of the general aims of the project. In each study, we will recruit a group of healthy young adults to perform various spatial working memory tasks, while we measure their brain activity with fMRI. We will also use different analytical methods to investigate behavioral performance, brain activation and functional connectivity, in addition to decoding the contents of brain activity.

We believe that the proposed project will provide a significant contribution to the understanding of representations and mechanisms used during spatial working memory. Our findings may help to resolve several outstanding theoretical and methodological issues, and improve knowledge about the principles of spatial cognition. Since studies have shown that spatial working memory is impaired in a number of psychiatric and neurological disorders, our findings could provide important insights into the understanding of pathological changes and thus contribute to the development of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures for such disorders.