A rat study reveals that, for rats at least, an understanding of place and a sense of direction appears within two weeks of being born, seemingly independently of any experience of the world. The directional signal, which allows the animal to know which way it is facing, is already at adult levels as soon as it can be measured in newborn rats. Sense of place is also present early, but improves with age. Representations of distance appear a few days later. These processes depend on specialized cells in the hippocampus, which in humans plays a crucial role in long-term memory for events as well as spatial navigation. The findings fit in with the theory that a pre-wired spatial framework may provide a conceptual framework for experience.
(2010). Development of the Hippocampal Cognitive Map in Preweanling Rats.
Science. 328(5985), 1573 - 1576.