Similarities and differences in spatial and non-spatial cognitive maps


There is a resurgence of interest in “cognitive maps” based on recent evidence that the hippocampal-entorhinal system encodes both spatial and non-spatial information, with far-reaching implications for human behavior. Yet little is known about the commonalities and differences in the computational principles underlying human learning and decision making in spatial and non-spatial domains. We use a within-subject design to examine how humans search for either spatially or conceptually correlated rewards. Using a Bayesian learning model, we find evidence for the same computational mechanisms of generalization across domains. While participants were sensitive to expected rewards and uncertainty in both tasks, how they leveraged this knowledge to guide exploration was different: participants displayed less uncertainty-directed and more random exploration in the conceptual domain. Moreover, experience with the spatial task improved conceptual performance, but not vice versa. These results provide important insights about the degree of overlap between spatial and conceptual cognition.

PLOS Computational Biology, 16, e1008149