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Front Psychol. 2012 Aug 27;3:304. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00304. eCollection 2012.

From objects to landmarks: the function of visual location information in spatial navigation.

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Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland St Lucia, QLD, Australia.


Landmarks play an important role in guiding navigational behavior. A host of studies in the last 15 years has demonstrated that environmental objects can act as landmarks for navigation in different ways. In this review, we propose a parsimonious four-part taxonomy for conceptualizing object location information during navigation. We begin by outlining object properties that appear to be important for a landmark to attain salience. We then systematically examine the different functions of objects as navigational landmarks based on previous behavioral and neuroanatomical findings in rodents and humans. Evidence is presented showing that single environmental objects can function as navigational beacons, or act as associative or orientation cues. In addition, we argue that extended surfaces or boundaries can act as landmarks by providing a frame of reference for encoding spatial information. The present review provides a concise taxonomy of the use of visual objects as landmarks in navigation and should serve as a useful reference for future research into landmark-based spatial navigation.


hippocampus; landmarks; navigation; parahippocampal gyrus; retrosplenial cortex; spatial memory; striatum; topographical disorientation

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