Age Differences in Human EEG Theta Oscillations During Spatial Navigation in Virtual Reality


  • Zheyuan Gu Eötvös Loránd University



Spatial orientation is a multifaceted behavior that necessitates a range of perceptual and cognitive abilities. Individuals employ diverse strategies and cognitive resources to navigate and orient themselves in their surroundings. Oscillatory patterns of activity in the electroencephalogram (EEG) have been associated with various cognitive functions in both animals and humans. In rodents, theta oscillations (4-12 Hz) have been connected to spatial navigation and specifically to the encoding and retrieval of spatial information in the hippocampus. These findings suggest a role for theta oscillations in spatial cognition. More recently, research has also investigated task-related characteristics of theta oscillations (4-8 Hz) in humans, aiming to understand their involvement in cognitive processes [1].  

There are sex and age differences for ability of spatial navigation in human. Previous researches have shown that there is no sex differences were found in spatial performance during the spatial navigation task. However, female participants showed a stronger increase in theta oscillations when processing landmarks as navigational aids compared to men [2]. In age aspect from another research, virtual environment (VE) technology was employed to evaluate age-related differences in spatial navigation. Older participants exhibited longer completion times, covered greater distances, and made more spatial memory errors compared to younger participants. Performance on the VE navigation task was positively correlated with mental rotation, verbal memory, and visual memory measures [3].

Aim and Hypothesis

Based on the conclusions above, younger participants have better performance on navigation task [3]. My research would mainly focus on the activation of theta oscillation while participants from different age groups doing spatial navigation task. The assumption is that while doing the task, the participant in younger group will detected stronger increasing and more frequency activation in theta oscillations while doing task.

Participants and Method

Expected age range of participants will be 20-70, and the number of participants will be about 50 and their age spread as evenly as possible across age groups (about 45 years old in average).

The navigation task will be presented by a VR maze task which consists of a number of T-junctions. Participants will be asked to find the exit of maze. In the duration of the task doing, EEG measurement will be applied from the beginning of maze task. Based on previous research, the most active theta oscillation will most occur in the crossing part of maze [1], so the data of EEG will be mainly focused in these spot during the task.


[1] W. F. Bischof and P. Boulanger, “Spatial Navigation in Virtual Reality Environments: An EEG Analysis,” CyberPsychology & Behavior, vol. 6, no. 5, pp. 487–495, Oct. 2003. doi:10.1089/109493103769710514

[2] S. E. Kober and C. Neuper, “Sex differences in human EEG theta oscillations during spatial navigation in virtual reality,” International Journal of Psychophysiology, vol. 79, no. 3, pp. 347–355, Mar. 2011. doi:10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2010.12.002

[3] S. D. Moffat, A. B. Zonderman, and S. M. Resnick, “Age differences in spatial memory in a virtual environment navigation task,” Neurobiology of Aging, vol. 22, no. 5, pp. 787–796, Sep. 2001. doi:10.1016/s0197-4580(01)00251-2