Knowing what and where: TMS evidence for the dual neural basis of geographical knowledge

Paul Hoffman, Sebastian Crutch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


All animals acquire knowledge about the topography of their immediate environment through direct exploration. Uniquely, humans also acquire geographical knowledge indirectly through exposure to maps and verbal information, resulting in a rich database of global geographical knowledge. We used transcranial magnetic stimulation to investigate the structure and neural basis of this critical but poorly understood component of semantic knowledge. Participants completed tests of geographical knowledge that probed either information about spatial locations (e.g., France borders Spain) or non-spatial taxonomic information (e.g., France is a country). TMS applied to the anterior temporal lobe, a region that codes conceptual knowledge for words and objects, had a general disruptive effect on the geographical tasks. In contrast, stimulation of the intraparietal sulcus, a region involved in the coding of spatial and numerical information, had a highly selective effect on spatial geographical decisions but no effect on taxonomic judgements. Our results establish that geographical concepts lie at the intersection of two distinct neural representation systems, and provide insights into how the interaction of these systems shape our understanding of the world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-159
Early online date17 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016


  • anterior temporal lobe;
  • inferior parietal sulcus
  • semantic cognition
  • magnitude


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