Human behavior is governed by a set of precisely coordinated mechanisms, supporting the storage of contextual information in memory, and its retrieval to guide behavioral choices and actions. Failure of any such mechanisms can lead to life-impairing cognitive dysfunctions, such as Alzheimer's disease (AD), Schizophrenia, and Depression, all characterized by disruptions in the way we mentally represent the world surrounding us. To understand and cure such conditions it is imperative that we dissect the neural circuits underlying the functions they affect. We model human goal-directed behaviors in the rodent as the acquisition of a spatial cognitive map, used to perform goal-directed choices on a maze of variable complexity, in which we monitor, and manipulate, sensory stimuli, reward contingencies, and neural activity, thus dissecting neural mechanisms underlying cognition. Our results can be leveraged to understand mental illness, and to develop mechanistically-targeted therapies.