On the use of cognitive maps

Thumbnail Image

Persistent link to this item

View Statistics

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


On the use of cognitive maps

Published Date




Thesis or Dissertation


Cognitive maps were proposed as an alternative to stimulus-response explanations of animal behavior. Although the concept of cognitive maps advanced treatments of complex animal behavior, it has remained resistant to theoretical definition. A simplified perspective on cognitive maps that focused on spatial behavior and the construction of spatial maps has provided an important approach to understanding the role of the hippocampus in spatial behavior and spatially modulated neural activity, particularly within the hippocampus. However, this perspective leaves open many questions on how spatial maps and neural activities within the hippocampus are used and how they contribute to selection of adaptive actions. A reinforcement learning approach to animal behavior was used to develop a theory of cognitive map function. Reinforcement learning provides a theoretical framework within which the components of cognitive map function can be readily defined and explored. This approach addresses long-standing criticisms of cognitive map theory by explicit mapping of stimuli to action via specific, albeit behaviorally unobservable, computations. Flexible behavior associated with cognitive maps implies the use of transition models in reinforcement learning algorithms. In contrast to model-free algorithms that depend on current experience only, model-based reinforcement algorithms represent sensory or state information beyond the modeled animal’s current sensory experience. As a result, model-based reinforcement learning provides a principled approach to analysis of neural representations and the dynamic processes that support cognition. Neurophysiological recordings in the hippocampus showed that apparent noise present in spatially modulated place cell activity could be explained as coherent spatial representations that deviated from the animal’s position on the maze. These non-local representations were associated with fast spatial representation dynamics and were typically found when the animal was at feeder locations or choice points. Non-local representations at choice points shifted forward of the animal to potential future spatial positions and were associated with theta and gamma local field potential activity. Forward-shifted spatial representations were associated with vicarious-trial-and-error behaviors and were task and experience dependent. In sum, these results suggest how cognitive maps in the hippocampus can contribute to selection of adaptive actions through the construction of past events and potential future experiences.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2008. Major: Neuroscience. Advisor: A. David Redish. 1 computer file (PDF); xx, 169 pages. Ill. (some col.)

Related to




Series/Report Number

Funding information

Isbn identifier

Doi identifier

Previously Published Citation

Suggested citation

Johnson, Adam Conrad. (2008). On the use of cognitive maps. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/62061.

Content distributed via the University Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor. By using these files, users agree to the Terms of Use. Materials in the UDC may contain content that is disturbing and/or harmful. For more information, please see our statement on harmful content in digital repositories.