Year of Graduation


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Restricted Access Thesis

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First Advisor

Erika Nyhus


Previous studies show that active exploration of an environment contributes to spatial learning more than passive visual exposure (Chrastil & Warren, 2013; Chrastil & Warren, 2015). Active navigation and cognitive decision-making in a novel environment leads to increased spatial knowledge and memory of location compared to a passive exploration that removes the decision-making component. There is evidence of theta oscillations present in electroencephalography (EEG) recordings from the hippocampus and pre-frontal cortex (PFC). These low-frequency waves could reflect spatial navigation and memory performance, suggested by their involvement in communication between the formerly named brain regions. Through communication with the hippocampus, theta oscillations could be involved in the integration of new spatial information into memory. While undergoing EEG, subjects in this study either actively or passively explored a virtual maze, identified as the “Free” or “Guided” groups, respectively. After exploring, subjects’ spatial memory of the maze was tested through a task that required navigation from a starting object to a target object. Behavioral data show increased spatial memory for the Free group, indicated by significantly greater navigation to the correct target object in the memory task. EEG results indicate significantly greater theta oscillations in frontal regions for the Free group during the exploration phase. These results support those found in previous studies and could indicate a correlation between frontal theta oscillations during learning of novel environments and spatial memory.


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