Processing of different spatial scales in the human brain

Michael Peer*, Yorai Ron, Rotem Monsa, Shahar Arzy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Humans navigate across a range of spatial scales, from rooms to continents, but the brain systems underlying spatial cognition are usually investigated only in small-scale environments. Do the same brain systems represent and process larger spaces? Here we asked subjects to compare distances between real-world items at six different spatial scales (room, building, neighborhood, city, country, continent) under functional MRI. Cortical activity showed a gradual progression from small to large scale processing, along three gradients extending anteriorly from the parahippocampal place area (PPA), retrosplenial complex (RSC) and occipital place area (OPA), and along the hippocampus posterior-anterior axis. Each of the cortical gradients overlapped with the visual system posteriorly and the default-mode network (DMN) anteriorly. These results suggest a progression from concrete to abstract processing with increasing spatial scale, and offer a new organizational framework for the brain’s spatial system, that may also apply to conceptual spaces beyond the spatial domain.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere47492
StatePublished - Sep 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Israeli Science Foundation (Grant No. 1306/18 and 3213/19). MP is supported by a Fulbright postdoctoral fellowship from the United States–Israel Educational Foundation, and by the Eva, Luis and Sergio Lamas Scholarship Fund. We wish to thank our study participants, Assaf Yohalashet, Yuval Porat, Lee Ashkenazi and Leon Deouell from the ELSC neuroimaging unit for their help in MRI scanning, Noam Saadon-Grosman for help with the analyses, and Gregory Peters-Founshtein and Rachel Fried for helpful comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© Peer et al.


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