Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Thesis defense Loes Ottink (Donders series 577)

6 December 2022

Promotors: prof. dr. R. van Wezel, prof. dr. C.. Döller (Max Planck Institut für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften, Germany)

Co-promotor: dr. T. van der Geest (HAN)

Mental maps with and without vision:
Forming cognitive maps of space based on the visual and haptic senses

To successfully find our way in a familiar or unfamiliar environment we need to build up some sort of mental map of this environment. A mental map stores important spatial information, such as relevant locations and distances between locations. We know that the brain constructs such cognitive maps using visual information. Whether this also happens when vision is not available, for instance to people with a visual impairment, is less clear. This thesis shows that our brain can also form cognitive maps of an environment using other senses than vision, such as touch. Using tactile maps, which are city-like maps that can be explored via touch, we found that visually impaired as well as sighted people can form mental maps of these tactile environments. We also show that we can measure this in the hippocampal formation, a brain region involved in spatial memory. This implicates that even when vision is not available, we can form mental maps that help us find our way.