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Satellite navigation disables the brain departments responsible for making routes

In human brain there is a built-in "GPS navigator", which relies on memories of past travel experiences to create future routes. But how does it work when a person enters a new environment? How to successfully manage the existing knowledge? What happens in brain when we come to a new city and use the technology of satellite navigation to get to the destination?

Thus, scientists from the University College of London studied the activity in the hippocampus - a part of the brain that participates in the process of memorization and navigation, as well as in the cerebral cortex responsible for planning and making decisions. Apparently, during the independent search for a route by a person, his hippocampus encodes two different environmental maps: in one he tracks the distance to the final point in a straight line using the frontal region of the hippocampus; in the other, the "right" route to the target, which is regulated by the rear region.

As part of their new research, scientists analyzed the location of streets in video clips and calculated various patterns, for example, how many other streets are connected by routes and how close they are to the center of the district. The scientific team also reviewed the results of the fMRI from the previous work to track the activity of the brain that arose during the transition of the experiment participants to a new street.

When the volunteers moved independently without the help of a navigator and went out to new, unknown streets, there were bursts of activity in their hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. The level of activity became even higher when the number of options where it was possible to go increased.

The study also showed that activity in the anterior part of the hippocampus is associated with a property called concentration. In addition, scientists observed activity in the prefrontal cortex of participants, when they were forced to make a detour and rebuild their route. But when the subjects followed the navigator's instructions, the activity in these areas was "turned off".

Early studies have shown that the hippocampus of London taxi drivers is more developed than the average person, as they learn to memorize all the streets and sights of central London. According to the latest experiments, the hippocampus of drivers who follow the advice of navigators does not participate in the process of constructing routes, thereby limiting the study of the urban street network.

The next stage of the research will be cooperation with smart-tech companies, developers and architects, which will help in developing a space where people will be easier to navigate. The new data allows them to study the layout of a city or a building and assume how the memory systems of the brain will react to it. For example, researchers could look at a new angle on models of homes and hospitals to identify complex areas for perception by people with dementia and help make them easier to orientate. In addition, they can help in the process of designing new buildings, which from the outset are designed for people suffering from this ailment.

Understanding how the urban environment affects the human brain is important. At the moment, the research team is studying how physical and cognitive activity affects brain function. Perhaps navigators will find their use in this work.

The connection between the city scheme and human behavior was revealed as far back as the 1980s, but this is the first study that revealed the influence of this structure on the brain.

Digital cartography and GPS navigation 03-01-2018