April 02, 2017 at 3:53 PM
Citing research published in the journal Nature Communications, the Scientific American report states that two brain regions cooperate together when one is navigating through new environments and planning the next direction you’re heading.
However, this only occurs when a person isn’t following a navigation system because when one does, these two regions of the human brain turn off, causing one to rely on the navigation system.
A brain structure called the hippocampus is involved in human memory function and spatial navigation, and acts like a built-in guidance system that engrains the environment one is going through in order to remember how to get to a specific destination.
Using movie simulations of streets to calculate how the hippocampus works, the study found that activity in the rear right of the hippocampus increased whenever one entered a new environment. If there was more than one route to a specific location or one is forced to take a detour, brain activity intensified.
When navigation systems were in use, activity in the hippocampus decreased. Hugo Spiers, one of the authors of the study studied taxi drivers in London, England, and noted that the front area of their hippocampus region was much larger, especially those who have more experience as a driver. The study also found that the front part of the hippocampus only activates if you’re using your memory to navigate yourself.
However, Spiers does concede that it’s not known what the long-term effects of using navigation systems really are. “If you think about the brain muscle, then certain activities, like learning maps of London’s streets, are like body building,” says Spiers. He continues by stating that the results of the study indicate that one isn’t working out a specific part of one’s brain when they rely on navigation.