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Hippocampus. 2017 Jan;27(1):12-16. doi: 10.1002/hipo.22672. Epub 2016 Nov 2.

Familiarity expands space and contracts time.

Author information

Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Psychology Department, University of California, Berkeley, California.
Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, Department of Experimental Psychology, University College London, Institute of Behavioural Neuroscience, London, United Kingdom.


When humans draw maps, or make judgments about travel-time, their responses are rarely accurate and are often systematically distorted. Distortion effects on estimating time to arrival and the scale of sketch-maps reveal the nature of mental representation of time and space. Inspired by data from rodent entorhinal grid cells, we predicted that familiarity to an environment would distort representations of the space by expanding the size of it. We also hypothesized that travel-time estimation would be distorted in the same direction as space-size, if time and space rely on the same cognitive map. We asked international students, who had lived at a college in London for 9 months, to sketch a south-up map of their college district, estimate travel-time to destinations within the area, and mark their everyday walking routes. We found that while estimates for sketched space were expanded with familiarity, estimates of the time to travel through the space were contracted with familiarity. Thus, we found dissociable responses to familiarity in representations of time and space.


grid cells; human spatial navigation; sketch-maps; time cells; time estimation

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