Spatial memory

Spatial memory is the part of memory responsible for recording information about one's environment and its spatial orientation. For example, a person's spatial memory is required in order to navigate around a familiar city, just as a rat's spatial memory is needed to learn the location of food at the end of a maze. It is often argued that a person's, or an animal's, spatial memories are summarised in a cognitive map.

Spatial memories are formed after an organism gathers and processes sensory information about its surroundings (especially vision and proprioception). In general, mammals require a functioning hippocampus (particularly area CA1) in order to form and process memories about space. There is some evidence that human spatial memory is strongly tied to the right hemisphere of the brain.

Spatial learning requires both NMDA and AMPA receptors, consolidation requires NMDA receptors, and the retrieval of spatial memories requires AMPA receptors . In rodents, spatial memory has been shown to covary with the size of a part of the hippocampal mossy fiber projection.

The study of spatial memory provides valuable information about the type of complex processes which occurs in humans. It gives insight, into complex procedures. For example, species such as the grey squirrel or Clark's Nutcracker, which are scatter hoarders (making numerous small caches, usually of nuts) show a remarkable ability to return to their caches months later. Such species often have a larger hippocampus, relative to overall brain size, than related non-hoarding species. Spatial memory is also important in animal migration, and in foraging in complex environments with many different food sources which become available in different seasons, the situation that faces many frugivorous primates.

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