What has Sat-Nav done to our brains?

Interesting programme suggests that our sense of identity and our memories are linked to a sense of place and connect the capacity to tell stories about ourselves at a physiological level through the hippocampus. If we learn to know where we are in space by using a map (as opposed to sat-nav) we have develop better of agency. We know where we are in life. The hippocampus is kept healthy by novelty and shrinks when we let our life become routine, or get too much screen time. Experiential learning (ie making mistakes and learning from them..) slows down alzheimers. Exploring and getting lost, keeps us healthy.

Chris Reed

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From the BBC Radio 4

Who uses paper maps to get around anymore? Smart phone apps have taken a lot of the stress out of navigation. But at what cost?

In a trip across London, Timandra Harkness teams ups with London cabby Robert Lorden to scrutinise a technology that we now take for granted. How is sat nav changing our brains? Does it affect the way we think?

London taxi drivers are excellent navigators, having to memorise thousands of street names and mentally visualise hundreds of journeys. This impressive cognitive map is evident on an MRI scan – an enlarged part of the brain called the hippocampus.

But for the rest of us, Timandra discovers, scientists are finding that an underactive hippocampus could have wider implications for our health and well-being – particularly in child development, mental health and dementia.

While taking turn-by-turn instructions from a GPS device, we could be losing a vital sixth sense that we do not, as yet, fully understand.

Contributors include Prof Hugo Spiers, director of the Spatial Cognition Laboratory at University College London; Maura O’Connor, author of Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World; Prof Veronique Bohbot, cognitive neuroscientist at McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

Producer: Dom Byrne
A Greenpoint production for BBC Radio 4

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