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Journal Article

Spatial cognition: Behavioral competences, neural mechanisms, and evolutionary scaling


Mallot,  HA
Department Human Perception, Cognition and Action, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Mallot, H. (1999). Spatial cognition: Behavioral competences, neural mechanisms, and evolutionary scaling. Kognitionswissenschaft, 8(1), 40-48. doi:10.1007/s001970050074.

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Spatial cognition is a cognitive ability that arose relatively early in animal evolution. It is therefore very well suited for studying the evolution from stereotyped to cognitive behavior and the general mechanisms underlying cognitive abilities. This paper presents a definition of cognition in terms of the complexity of behavior it subserves. This approach allows questions about the mechanisms of cognition, just as the mechanisms of simpler behavior have been addressed in neuroethology. As an example for this mechanistic view of cognitive abilities, the view-graph theory of cognitive maps will be discussed. It will be argued that spatial cognitive abilities can be explained by scaling up simple, stereotyped mechanisms of spatial behavior. This evolutionary view of cognition is supported by two types of empirical evidence: robot experiments show that the simple mechanisms are in fact sufficient to produce cognitive behavior, while behavioral experiments with subjects exploring a computer graphics environment indicate that stereotyped and cognitive mechanisms co-exist in human spatial behavior.