Just two weeks ago, the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to John O´Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser for their discovery of the neurological positioning system in the human brain.

As far back as 200 years ago, German philosopher Immanuel Kant reasoned that the concept of space is an element of the human mind that exists before a newborn experiences life events. In the mid-20th century, Edward Tolman conducted maze experiments with rats. From this work, he concluded that indeed a “cognitive map” formed in their brain, helping them to navigate the laboratory labyrinth.

But proof of the actual neural brain structure eluded science until John O’Keefe revealed that nerve cells not only recorded visual inputs but also were building inner map coordinates in what he called “place cells”. Fascinating, but still unknown was where the environmental coordinates were stored and how.

Building upon O’Keefe’s research milestones, May-Britt and Edvard Moser astounded the global scientific community with their discovery that O’Keefe’s “place cells” are activated in a unique spatial pattern in a uniquely complex grid of cells that records visual information.

As noted in the October 6 issue of ScienceDaily, “This circuitry constitutes a comprehensive positioning system, an inner GPS, in the brain…It has opened up new avenues for understanding other cognitive processes, such as memory, thinking and planning”.

For market and insights professionals, this is amazing proof that perceptual mapping is indeed real. As we begin to reflect on the scientific breakthrough, we at RTi are already seeing some immediate implications for communications and shopper insights research.