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Single‐trial regression of spatial exploration behavior indicates posterior EEG alpha modulation to reflect egocentric coding

Gehrke, Lukas; Gramann, Klaus

Learning to navigate uncharted terrain is a key cognitive ability that emerges as a deeply embodied process, with eye movements and locomotion proving most useful to sample the environment. We studied healthy human participants during active spatial learning of room‐scale virtual reality (VR) mazes. In the invisible maze task, participants wearing a wireless electroencephalography (EEG) headset were free to explore their surroundings, only given the objective to build and foster a mental spatial representation of their environment. Spatial uncertainty was resolved by touching otherwise invisible walls that were briefly rendered visible inside VR, similar to finding your way in the dark. We showcase the capabilities of mobile brain/body imaging using VR, demonstrating several analysis approaches based on general linear models (GLMs) to reveal behavior‐dependent brain dynamics. Confirming spatial learning via drawn sketch maps, we employed motion capture to image spatial exploration behavior describing a shift from initial exploration to subsequent exploitation of the mental representation. Using independent component analysis, the current work specifically targeted oscillations in response to wall touches reflecting isolated spatial learning events arising in deep posterior EEG sources located in the retrosplenial complex. Single‐trial regression identified significant modulation of alpha oscillations by the immediate, egocentric, exploration behavior. When encountering novel walls, as well as with increasing walking distance between subsequent touches when encountering novel walls, alpha power decreased. We conclude that these oscillations play a prominent role during egocentric evidencing of allocentric spatial hypotheses.
Published in: European Journal of Neuroscience, 10.1111/ejn.15152, Wiley