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Publication Detail
Human back-tracking behaviour is associated with suppression of default-mode region activity and enhanced dorsal anterior cingulate activity
  • Publication Type:
    Working discussion paper
  • Authors:
    Javadi A-H, Patai EZ, Marin-Garcia E, Margois A, Tan H-R, Kumaran D, Nardini M, Penny W, Duzel E, Dayan P, Spiers H
  • Publication date:
  • Status:
Central to the concept of the ‘cognitive map’ is that it confers behavioural flexibility, allowing animals to take efficient detours, exploit shortcuts and realise the need to back-track rather than persevere on a poorly chosen route. The neural underpinnings of such naturalistic and flexible behaviour remain unclear. During fMRI we tested human subjects on their ability to navigate to a set of goal locations in a virtual desert island riven by lava, which occasionally shifted to block selected paths (necessitating detours) or receded to open new paths (affording shortcuts). We found that during self-initiated back-tracking, activity increased in frontal regions and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, while activity in regions associated with the core default-mode network was suppressed. Detours activated a network of frontal regions compared to shortcuts. Activity in right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex specifically increased when participants encountered new plausible shortcuts but which in fact added to the path (false shortcuts). These results help inform current models as to how the brain supports navigation and planning in dynamic environments.

Significance Statement

Adaptation to change is important for survival. Although real-world spatial environments are prone to continual change, little is known about how the brain supports navigation in dynamic environments where flexible adjustments to route plans are needed. Here, we used fMRI to examine the brain activity elicited when humans took forced detours, identified shortcuts and spontaneously back-tracked along their recent path. Both externally and internally generated changes in the route activated the fronto-parietal attention network, whereas only internally generated changes generated increased activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex with a concomitant disengagement in regions associated with the default-mode network. The results provide new insights into how the brain plans and re-plans in the face of a changing environment.
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