The Jacobs Lab of Cognitive Biology


other bodies, other minds




Cognition is a biological trait, adapted to an ecological niche. We study that universal of universals: spatial orientation. We want to know how spatial cognitive traits adapt and evolve in response to the challenges of age, gender and species. 

SQUIRRELS and SPACE. Tree squirrels must survive and reproduce in their challenging arboreal environment. Scatter hoarding species must also create huge cache maps afresh each autumn, burying thousands of nuts for their winter survival (Robin & Jacobs 2022b). We study spatial orientation, spatial memory and decision making in free-ranging adult fox squirrels on the Berkeley campus and captive juveniles, orphans being raised in wildlife rescue centers.

From Lucia’s dissertation research at Princeton on spatial memory in gray squirrels (see picture of youngster below), the program evolved to study species and/or sex differences in spatial memory in kangaroo rats, voles, lab mice and humans. 

SMELLS AND SPACE. Individual differences in space use led to the discovery of the same individual differences in the hippocampus. This led to “unpacking the cognitive map”, when Jacobs & Schenk (2003) proposed the parallel map theory, a new hypothesis of hippocampal function based on navigating not only to landmarks but also to gradients, e.g., odor plumes.  

This led further to the olfactory spatial hypothesis:  olfaction cannot be understood apart from its role in navigation (Jacobs, 2012) and navigation by the hippocampus cannot be understood apart from olfaction (Jacobs, 2022a).

Finally, the PROUST hypothesis – perceiving and reconstructing odor utility in space and time – reframes olfactory cognition as embodied, embedded, enacted, extended and evolved  (Jacobs, 2023).


Interview with Wall Street Journal

Interview with Wall Street Journal

The Importance of Squirrels for Mental Health in a Pandemic (yes, we're all going nuts)When Your Best Friend in Quarantine is a Squirrel.... great article by Ellen Gamerman. She and Lucia had a long discussion on what squirrels mean to people living in isolation in...


Lucia Jacobs

Department of Psychology, University of California

2121 Berkeley Way West

Berkeley, CA 94720-1650