GPS and our sense of direction

Less Is More

GPS and our sense of direction

When was the last time you gave a landmark to help a friend find where you were? Typically, you would drop a pin of your current location so they can use their GPS to find you. As GPS tracking becomes our go-to to escort us from point A to point B, our natural systems for navigation have started to slip. So how is it that we can we follow all those steps, and make all those turns, without retaining anything?

A recent study by the University College of London which reviewed neurological patterns, used London cab drivers and average residents as their sample. These taxi drivers had a much bigger hippocampi (the part of the brain that’s used for spacial awareness) since their jobs require navigation through London’s intricate road system, meaning our reliance on GPS may have the opposite effect on our hippocampi, shrinking it as we use it less.

It is the process of deciding which route to take that helps us develop our mental map of a place and remember how to navigate it the next time we pass through. People who use GPS systems tend to retain less information about the world they encounter.

The New York Times has done a review on ways to help you keep your natural sense of direction. The article explains five ways to fine tune your sense of direction; create a mental map, be mindful of place, etc. So, to keep your navigational instincts, put away your phone and stop to look around once in a while.


By: Melissa Thorne