We fear chaos and confusion in our lives. Whenever possible, we try to organize things and the things we have to do so we don’t get lost throughout the day. This is most especially helpful when traveling, especially during long travels. The GPS (Global Positioning System) comes in handy, so you can get to your destination the fastest way possible without any fears of ever getting lost.
Back in the days, getting lost is a common complaint among drivers since there was no GPS yet and the most you could do was to bring a map – which is only efficient if you have someone else with you to check it out while you are driving. But recent studies reveal that too much reliance on GPS may not be good for our health after all.
Using a GPS to reach your destination may be throwing your brain off track, new research has revealed.
A study published in Nature Communications found that frequent GPS use might actually be making you a worse natural navigator, as relying on technology to get from Point A to Point B doesn’t engage your brain the same way navigating on your own does.
In the study, 24 participants navigated a video simulation of London, England with and without a satellite navigation system. When participants didn’t rely on technology, their hippocampi (responsible for mental maps of our surroundings) and their prefrontal cortex (responsible for decision-making) became more active when choosing which streets to venture down. Their brains didn’t experience this same activation when they used the GPS, and actually looked identical whether they arrived at a fork in the road or were simply continuing along the same path.
Our forefathers survived traveling thousands of miles on foot and never worried about getting lost. In case they did back then, then that means it is just but a new discovery. It is simply how the brain process and retain information.
“We show that, specifically when new streets are entered during navigation, right posterior hippocampal activity indexes the change in the number of local topological connections available for future travel and right anterior hippocampal activity reflects global properties of the street entered,” said the researchers.
“When forced detours require replanning of the route to the goal, bilateral inferior lateral prefrontal activity scales with the planning demands of a breadth-first search of future paths.”
These results will help shape models of how hippocampal and prefrontal regions support navigation, planning, and future simulation.
The hippocampus appears to produce two maps of the environment. One tracks the straight-line distance to the destination and is encoded by the frontal region of the hippocampus, the other model is in the rear of the hippocampus and tracks the “true path” to the goal.
While navigating, the hippocampus flips between these two maps depending on the information you need.
So, what happens when you ignore your instincts and rely on technology to find the solutions for you?
A reliance on satnavs could make the brain disinterested in learning directions. When the brain has something telling us where to go, this kind of brain activity will switch off and the brain will be unresponsive to the street network. This can affect the brain in the future and make GPS users learn slower or follow and create routes unaided, the Reuters reported. The study hopes that satnav users will realize that the technology has its uses and limitations.
Using GPS devices while driving can even cause the brain to abandon common sense altogether. These might have actually happened to you when you followed Waze to a dead end instead of relying on your instincts to turn at a different corner to reach your destination. The findings of the study can shed light on accidents caused by GPS glitches where this reliance on technology make travelers insist on following the device rather than common sense.
The human body is equipped to overcome obstacles it may come its way in your day-to-day. From physical and manual labor to challenges that require you to think, your body will help you figure things out. But as we increase our reliance on technologies that aim to make our life easier, we may also be unconsciously changing the way our brain works and it might not be a good idea after all.