People raised in cities are worse at navigation: study

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People who grew up in the countryside have a better sense of direction and navigation than those who grew up in cities, according to a study Wednesday.

To find out how childhood environment influences navigation ability, scientists looked at how nearly 400,000 people from 38 countries played a mobile video game designed for neuroscience research.

Players of the game “Sea Hero Quest” had to navigate a boat to find checkpoints on a map, according to the study published in the Nature newspaper.

“We found that growing up outside cities seems to be good for the development of navigation skills, and this seems to be influenced by the lack of complexity of many street networks in cities,” said lead researcher Hugo Spiers from the ‘University College London.

Co-lead author Antoine Coutrot of the University of Lyon said research had previously shown that when mice grew up in cages with trajectories of different complexity, “certain cognitive abilities in their brains, including spatial navigation, were also modified.

However, humans were a bit trickier to study because “you can’t put them in cages,” he told AFP.

So the researchers used “Sea Hero Quest,” which was created in 2016 to study Alzheimer’s disease and has since been played by nearly four million people.

Coutrot said people who grew up in rural areas performed better because “the countryside is quite a complex environment in that it’s very disorganized, with greater distances, which means you have to memorize your itinerary”.

However, people raised in more complex cities such as Paris and Prague did much better than those in cities with orderly grid-based street maps like Chicago, he added.

And adults can still improve their sense of direction later in life if they work on it.

“It’s a bit like learning another language, which will be much easier if you learned it when you were young,” Coutrot said.

Researchers also developed a new version of the game called “City Hero Quest” to test how city dwellers performed in their natural environment.

People raised in cities did better on grid street maps than those raised in the countryside, but the difference was nowhere near as stark as the reverse.


Growing up in rural or suburban areas improves spatial navigation


More information:

Antoine Coutrot, Entropy of urban road networks linked to the future capacity of spatial navigation, Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04486-7. www.nature.com/articles/s41586-022-04486-7

© 2022 AFP

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People raised in cities are worse at navigation: study (2022, April 2)
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