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article imageIs GPS ruining our brains?

By Tim Sandle     Jun 13, 2019 in Science
London - Do our brains work differently when we are using GPS? The answer is yes, according to a new study. The research was conducted in virtual reality, where some visitors navigated using a GPS device and others who navigated using a map.
During the study, as the Washington Post reports, scientists required participants to navigate around a virtual simulation of London’s Soho district. As they did so, the research team assessed levels of brain activity, focusing on the hippocampus.
The research, from University College London, found that people who were guided by GPS directions showed less activity in their brains compared with other study participants, who did not use a GPS equipped device.
The reason for looking into the hippocampus is because this brain region is integral to spatial navigation, as confirmed by neuropsychology, neuroimaging and electrophysiology . The hippocampus is also part of the limbic system, and plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory. The brain contains two hippocampi, and it is the dorsal hippocampus that serves for spatial memory, verbal memory and the learning of conceptual information.
The study confirmed that the hippocampus forms an internal map of the environment and this map becomes active only when a person is engaged in navigating. No reaction occurs when someone is simply following the instructions from a GPS device. The variations with the brain were assessed using functional magnetic resonance imaging.
The researchers conclude that the hippocampus functions to encode two different maps of the environment. The first of these tracks the distance to the final destination and this is encoded by the frontal region of the hippocampus. The second tracks the “true path” to the goal and is encoded by its rear region.
According to lead researcher Dr. Amir-Homayoun Javadi: "Understanding how the environment affects our brain is important. My research group is now exploring how physical and cognitive activity affect brain activity in a positive way. Satnavs clearly have their uses and their limitations."
The research is published in the journal Nature Communications, with the research paper titled "Hippocampal and prefrontal processing of network topology to simulate the future."
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