Neuropsychology of environmental navigation in humans: Review and meta-analysis of fMRI studies in healthy participants

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In the past 20 years, many studies in the cognitive neurosciences have analyzed human ability to navigate in recently learned and familiar environments by investigating the cognitive processes involved in successful navigation. In this study, we reviewed the main experimental paradigms and made a cognitive-oriented meta-analysis of fMRI studies of human navigation to underline the importance of the experimental designs and cognitive tasks used to assess navigational skills. We performed a general activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis of 66 fMRI experiments to identify the neural substrates underpinning general aspects of human navigation. Four individual ALE analyses were performed to identify the neural substrates of different experimental paradigms (i.e., familiar vs. recently learned environments) and different navigational strategies (allocentric vs. egocentric). Results of the general ALE analysis highlighted a wide network of areas with clusters in the occipital, parietal, frontal and temporal lobes, especially in the parahippocampal cortex. Familiar environments seem to be processed by an extended temporal-frontal network, whereas recently learned environments require activation in the parahippocampal cortex and the parietal and occipital lobes. Allocentric strategy is subtended by the same areas as egocentric strategy, but the latter elicits greater activation in the right precuneus, middle occipital lobe and angular gyrus. Our results suggest that different neural correlates are involved in recalling a welllearned or recently acquired environment and that different networks of areas subtend egocentric and allocentric strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)236-251
Number of pages16
JournalNeuropsychology Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Experimental paradigm
  • FMRI
  • Frame of reference
  • Humannavigation
  • Meta-analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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