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J Neurosci. 2013 Apr 3;33(14):6012-7. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0717-12.2013.

Maladaptive bias for extrahippocampal navigation strategies in aging humans.

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Psychology Research Centre, Bournemouth University, Poole, BH12 5BB, United Kingdom.


Efficient spatial navigation requires not only accurate spatial knowledge but also the selection of appropriate strategies. Using a novel paradigm that allowed us to distinguish between beacon, associative cue, and place strategies, we investigated the effects of cognitive aging on the selection and adoption of navigation strategies in humans. Participants were required to rejoin a previously learned route encountered from an unfamiliar direction. Successful performance required the use of an allocentric place strategy, which was increasingly observed in young participants over six experimental sessions. In contrast, older participants, who were able to recall the route when approaching intersections from the same direction as during encoding, failed to use the correct place strategy when approaching intersections from novel directions. Instead, they continuously used a beacon strategy and showed no evidence of changing their behavior across the six sessions. Given that this bias was already apparent in the first experimental session, the inability to adopt the correct place strategy is not related to an inability to switch from a firmly established response strategy to an allocentric place strategy. Rather, and in line with previous research, age-related deficits in allocentric processing result in shifts in preferred navigation strategies and an overall bias for response strategies. The specific preference for a beacon strategy is discussed in the context of a possible dissociation between beacon-based and associative-cue-based response learning in the striatum, with the latter being more sensitive to age-related changes.

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