Cognitive Scientists use Virtual Reality © strawlab.org/freemovr
The researchers led by Andrew Straw, PI in the WWTF-funded project "Algorithms, neural circuitry, and genetics of high-level visual behavior in the fly" achieved a major breakthrough in cognitive sciences. In contrast to standard experiments, which only incompletely mimic natural conditions in the lab, this new method allows a freely-moving animal to immerse in a reactive, three-dimensional world controlled by a
“We wanted to create a holodeck for animals so that they would experience a reactive, immersive environment under computer control so that we could perform experiments that would reveal how they see objects, the environment, and other animals,” saysAndrew Straw, leading in the development of FreemoVR.
The system was already used during studies on mice, fish and flies. Among other results, it could be shown that mice are equally afraid of heights in a real and virtual elevated maze. These studies are important means for researchers to deduce information about brain functions. In the future, the different teams hope to use FreemoVR to gain insights into brain function of high-level behaviors like navigation, to better understand causality in collective behavior of social groups and, in the long run, to study the mechanisms of behavior under conditions in which the brain evolved to operate.