Short-term memory effects on the representation of two-dimensional space in the rhesus monkey

Human subjects represent the location of a point in 2D space using two independent dimensions (x-y in Euclidean or radius-angle in polar space), and encode location in memory along these dimensions using two levels of representation: a fine-grain value and a category. Here we determined whether monkeys possessed the ability to represent location with these two levels of coding. A rhesus monkey was trained to reproduce the location of a dot in a circle by pointing, after a delay period, on the location where a dot was presented. Five different delay periods (0.5-5 s) were used. The results showed that the monkey used a polar coordinate system to represent the fine-grain spatial coding, where the radius and angle of the dots were encoded independently. The variability of the spatial response and reaction time increased with longer delays. Furthermore, the animal was able to form a categorical representation of space that was delay-dependent. The responses avoided the circumference and the center of the circle, defining a categorical radial prototype around one third of the total radial length. This radial category was observed only at delay durations of 3-5 s. Finally, the monkey also formed angular categories with prototypes at the obliques of the quadrants of the circle, avoiding the horizontal and vertical axes. However, these prototypes were only observed at the 5-s delay and on dots lying on the circumference. These results indicate that monkeys may possess spatial cognitive abilities similar to humans.