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Précis of O'Keefe & Nadel's The hippocampus as a cognitive map

  • John O'Keefe (a1) and Lynn Nadel (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 May 2011

Theories of spatial cognition are derived from many sources. Psychologists are concerned with determining the features of the mind which, in combination with external inputs, produce our spatialized experience. A review of philosophical and other approaches has convinced us that the brain must come equipped to impose a three-dimensional Euclidean framework on experience – our analysis suggests that object re-identification may require such a framework. We identify this absolute, nonegocentric, spatial framework with a specific neural system centered in the hippocampus.

A consideration of the kinds of behaviours in which such a spatial mapping system would be important is followed by an analysis of the anatomy and physiology of this system, with special emphasis on the place-coded neurons recorded in the hippocampus of freely moving rats. A tentative physiological model for the hippocampal cognitive map is proposed. A review of lesion studies, in tasks as diverse as discrimination learning, avoidance, and extinction, shows that the cognitive map notion can adequately explain much of the data.

The model is extended to humans by the assumption that spatial maps are built in one hemisphere, semantic maps in the other. The latter provide a semantic deep structure within which discourse comprehension and production can be achieved. Evidence from the study of amnesic patients, briefly reviewed, is consistent with this extension.

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