Human 3D spatial navigation: internal representations, clinical relevance and testing


Principle Investigator(s):

Dr. Virginia L. Flanagin, PhD

Dr. Thomas Brandt, MD, FRCP, FANA



We are interested in the sensorimotor aspects of both real and virtual navigation. The long-term goal is to develop quantitative and standardized diagnostic tools for the assessment of spatial memory and navigational ability.


Project description(s):



I.)    Spatial perception in real and virtual environments

How does the performance in a virtual environment translate back to the real world? Patients with vestibular disorders also show deficits in virtual navigation, however it is unclear how vestibular perception affects performance in a virtual environment. This project involves examining the relationship between real and virtual space. We look at how body orientation affects the accuracy and precision of visual and vestibular heading perception. We also develop tools for assessing navigational performance based on free exploration of virtual spaces.




II.)   A representation of space in three dimensions

Spatial navigation involves interpreting both horizontal and vertical information, but our current knowledge is almost exclusively about the horizontal plane. We have shown that animals show larger deficits in the vertical than in the horizontal plane (Brandt & Dieterich 2013) Using pointing tasks in complex real environments, we have also shown that healthy humans underestimate vertical distances more strongly than horizontal distances. Neural correlates of real and imagined navigation of multi-level buildings is being examined with fMRI and PET (for PET see TRSII-5).


I.)    Towards a unified tool for the assessment of spatial deficits

Here, we examine the prevalence of spatial disorders in the general population in an age-based manner with a cross-sectional telephone survey. We hope that together these studies will help us to develop quantitative assessment tools for use in a diagnostic setting.



  • Virtual reality (MCM-M)
  • Computational modeling (MCM-M)
  • Cross sectional surveys (MCM-E)
  • (functional) magnetic resonance imaging (MCM-I)


Relevant publications:

Brandt T, Dieterich M. (2013) "Right Door," wrong floor: A canine deficiency in navigation. Hippocampus 23: 245-6.

Brandt T, Dieterich M, Strupp M, Glasauer S. (2012) Model approach to neurological variants of visuo-spatial neglect. Biol Cybern 106: 681-90.

Wutte MG, Glasauer S, Jahn K, Flanagin VL. (2012) Moving and being moved: differences in cerebral activation during recollection of whole-body motion. Behav Brain Res 227: 21-9.

Fraedrich EM, Flanagin VL, Duann JR, Brandt T, Glasauer S. (2012) Hippocampal involvement in processing of indistinct visual motion stimuli. J Cogn Neurosci 24: 1344-57.

Glasauer S, Brandt T. (2007) Noncommutative updating of perceived self-orientation in three dimensions. J Neurophysiol 97: 2958-64.

Brandt T, Schautzer F, Hamilton DA, Brüning R, Markowitsch HJ, Kalla R, Darlington C, Smith P, Strupp M. (2005) Vestibular loss causes hippocampal atrophy and impaired spatial memory in humans. Brain 128: 2732-41.



Flanagin HS_TBrandt_FIN HS_NHummel_FIN HS_CRoppelt_FIN
Virginia Flanagin Thomas Brandt Nadine Hummel Christopher Roppelt


Virginia L. Flanagin

Address: Feodor-Lynen-Str. 19, 81377 Munich, Germany

Tel: + 49 (0) 89 4400 7 4819

Fax: + 49 (0) 89 4400 7 4801