Brain connectivity during encoding and retrieval of spatial information: individual differences in navigation skills

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Journal Article
Brain Informatics, 2017, 4 (3), pp. 207 - 217
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© 2017, The Author(s). Emerging evidence suggests that the variations in the ability to navigate through any real or virtual environment are accompanied by distinct underlying cortical activations in multiple regions of the brain. These activations may appear due to the use of different frame of reference (FOR) for representing an environment. The present study investigated the brain dynamics in the good and bad navigators using Graph Theoretical analysis applied to low-density electroencephalography (EEG) data. Individual navigation skills were rated according to the performance in a virtual reality (VR)-based navigation task and the effect of navigator's proclivity towards a particular FOR on the navigation performance was explored. Participants were introduced to a novel virtual environment that they learned from a first-person or an aerial perspective and were subsequently assessed on the basis of efficiency with which they learnt and recalled. The graph theoretical parameters, path length (PL), global efficiency (GE), and clustering coefficient (CC) were computed for the functional connectivity network in the theta and alpha frequency bands. During acquisition of the spatial information, good navigators were distinguished by a lower degree of dispersion in the functional connectivity compared to the bad navigators. Within the groups of good and bad navigators, better performers were characterised by the formation of multiple hubs at various sites and the percentage of connectivity or small world index. The proclivity towards a specific FOR during exploration of a new environment was not found to have any bearing on the spatial learning. These findings may have wider implications for how the functional connectivity in the good and bad navigators differs during spatial information acquisition and retrieval in the domains of rescue operations and defence systems.
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