Apparently Google Maps Is Ruining Our Sense Of Direction

Have you noticed the quality of your handwriting has suffered as you’ve become more reliant on typing your words? Well so too, it seems, for your sense of direction. New research has proven that it is indeed a “use-it-or-loose-it” scenario.

We wander the footpaths looking at our screens as opposed to our surroundings, and we drive the streets with the comfort of a computer-generated voice reminding us “at the next roundabout, take the third exit”.  But long term, this could be more hinderance than help.

As GPS tracking becomes our go-to to escort us from point A to point B, our natural systems for navigation have started slip. The evidence comes from two studies; one by the University of Nottingham which showed that drivers who used a trusty paper map to plan their journey had a much higher recall rate of the route they’d taken, then drivers who used GPS navigation.


Photo: Mitsu_bw/Flickr

A second study by the University College of London looked deeper into neurological patterns, using London cab drivers has their sample. It found that taxi drivers had a much bigger hippocampi – the part of the brain that’s used for spacial awareness – then any other occupation, which could in-part be due to the gruelling memory test of the ins-and-outs of London’s streets that drivers must pass to be allowed to operate. Meaning, our reliance on GPS may have the opposite effect on our hippocampi, shrinking it as we use it less.

The good news is this: it may possible to reverse the damage. The New York Times reported this week that the way to help keep your natural sense of direction on point (literally), is to nurture it. The article explains five ways to improve your sense of direction; create a mental map, take note of your surroundings, put away your app, take a different route each time you travel, and make note of your direction in terms of north.

So to keep your navigational instincts alive and well, put away your phone, trust your gut, and stop and look around once in a while.

[h/t: Science of Us]


Lead Image: Moonrise Kingdom/HBO