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Travel in the Physical and Mental Space: A Behavioral Assessment of the Phylogenetic Continuity Hypothesis Between Egocentric Navigation and Episodic Memory
Evolutionary Psychology  (IF1.506),  Pub Date : 2021-09-27, DOI: 10.1177/14747049211040823
Agustina Fragueiro, Annalisa Tosoni, Matteo Frisoni, Rosalia Di Matteo, Carlo Sestieri, Giorgia Committeri

Based on the neuro-functional association between navigation in the physical and the mental space at the level of the hippocampal-entorhinal system, Buzsáki and Moser (2013) have hypothesized a phylogenetic continuity between spatial navigation and declarative memory functions. According to this proposal, mechanisms of episodic and semantic memory would have evolved from mechanisms of self-based and map-based navigation in the physical space, respectively. Using classic versions of path integration and item recognition tasks in human subjects, we have recently described a correlation and a predictive relationship between abilities in egocentric navigation and episodic memory. Here we aim at confirming and extending this association to the dynamic component of sequential updating in the physical (egocentric navigation) and mental (episodic memory) space, and at investigating the relationship of these self-centered abilities with semantic memory. To this aim, we developed three new experimental tasks in which the dynamic component of updating information is particularly emphasized in the spatial, the temporal, and the semantic domain. The contribution of visual short-term memory to the three tasks was also controlled by including an additional task. The results confirmed the existence of a direct and predictive relationship between self-based spatial navigation and episodic memory. We also found a significant association between egocentric navigation and semantic memory, but this relationship was explained by short-term memory abilities and was mediated by episodic memory functions. Our results support the hypothesis of an evolutionary link between mechanisms that allow spatial navigation in the physical space and time travel in the mental space.