A fundamental process underlying navigation behaviour, shown to occur in every species tested, uses geometric properties of the environment for location memory and orientation. Here we employ a new method to ask whether this basic geometric orientation ability is innately predisposed in the brain or depends on specific experiences navigating in a geometrically rich environment.
Using the newborn domestic chick as a model system, we present a working memory task testing reorientation towards a filial imprinting object under rigorous controlled rearing conditions. In the absence of any previous exposure to a geometrically rich environment, newly hatched chicks spontaneously recovered their bearings by making use of distances and directional relations to reorient themselves to an artificial social partner. These findings provide evidence for an innate capacity to navigate by the geometric structure of the environment.