Vanderbilt-LogoNew research conducted at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee demonstrates how invaluable virtual reality is to human cognition and spatial navigation research. In his recent study, Doctor Timothy McNamara of Vanderbilt asked subjects to perform navigation tasks in virtual environments using a headset-based wide-area walking VR system developed by WorldViz. Subjects were then asked to navigate the space a second time with the 3D headset vision input blacked out.

McNamara’s research contributes significantly to the growing body of evidence that humans use a neural system called grid cells for orienting and navigating within space. Grid cells were discovered in rats 10 years ago by Edvard Moser and May-Britt Moser. The Mosers and John O’Keefe, who discovered place cells, were awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries. In order to bolster the theory that humans also have and utilize this cell system, McNamara and his team tracked and recorded human subjects’ physical movements to see if they would respond in a way that the grid cell theory predicts. Their findings suggested exactly that. The scientific article can be found in Current Biology.

Vanderbilt’s Learning in Virtual Environments Lab (LiVE), which is outfitted with PPT motion tracking and the Vizard VR development platform, has also facilitated research in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Speech and Hearing Sciences.