Unpacking the navigation toolbox: insights from comparative cognition

Kate J. Jeffery*, Ken Cheng, Nora S. Newcombe, Verner P. Bingman, Randolf Menzel

*Corresponding author for this work

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The study of navigation is informed by ethological data from many species, laboratory investigation at behavioural and neurobiological levels, and computational modelling. However, the data are often species-specific, making it challenging to develop general models of how biology supports behaviour. Wiener et al. outlined a framework for organizing the results across taxa, called the 'navigation toolbox' (Wiener et al. In Animal thinking: contemporary issues in comparative cognition (eds R Menzel, J Fischer), pp. 51-76). This framework proposes that spatial cognition is a hierarchical process in which sensory inputs at the lowest level are successively combined into ever-more complex representations, culminating in a metric or quasi-metric internal model of the world (cognitive map). Some animals, notably humans, also use symbolic representations to produce an external representation, such as a verbal description, signpost or map that allows communication of spatial information or instructions between individuals. Recently, new discoveries have extended our understanding of how spatial representations are constructed, highlighting that the hierarchical relationships are bidirectional, with higher levels feeding back to influence lower levels. In the light of these new developments, we revisit the navigation toolbox, elaborate it and incorporate new findings. The toolbox provides a common framework within which the results from different taxa can be described and compared, yielding a more detailed, mechanistic and generalized understanding of navigation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20231304
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number2016
Early online date7 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2024. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • cognitive map
  • navigation
  • route
  • spatial cognition
  • vector
  • wayfinding


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