Exciting speaker invited by Emily Baird!

Virtual reality (VR) experimental behavior setups enable cognitive neuroscientists to study theintegration of visual depth cues and self-motion cues into a single percept of three-dimensional space. Rodents can navigate a virtual environment when locomotion is simulated by running on a spherical treadmill; however, two-dimensional navigation is markedly reduced when their ability to turn freely is restricted. Besides making movement more difficult, this reduced exploration may also stem from sensory conflict between the visual and vestibular systems, as head translation produces no change in the visual perspective of the virtual environment. In humans, vestibulo-visual conflict reduces the subject's immersion in the virtual environment and produces sensations of nausea. Updating the virtual environment via the subject's head movements solves both the vestibulo-visual and sensorimotor conflict issues, however, and last year, we showed that these freely-moving rats demonstrate immersion in virtual environments by displaying height aversion to virtual cliffs, exploration preference of virtual objects, and spontaneously modify their locomotion trajectories near virtual walls. These experiments help bridge the classic behavior and virtual reality literature by showing that rats display similar behaviors to virtual environment features without training, opening up opportunities for more research using virtual environments for a wide range of species: from humans to bees!