Our Brains May Be Suffering Thanks to GPS

Without exercise, hippocampus could begin to change
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 23, 2017 10:08 AM CDT

(Newser) – Maybe this helps explain why people drive into lakes because of their GPS. A study in Nature suggests that parts of our brain switch off when navigating with it. Indeed, as more and more people rely on GPS, the human ability to navigate as a whole could suffer, researchers at University College London tell Live Science. They took volunteers on a tour of London's Soho district, then recorded their brain activity as they completed 10 video simulations requiring them to navigate those streets. In five simulations the volunteers navigated alone, leading to increased activity in the parts of the brain responsible for route planning, especially when at junctions. But when they were given directions, a la GPS, these parts of the brain essentially turned off, reports New Atlas.

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"The hippocampus simulates journeys on future possible paths while the prefrontal cortex helps us to plan which ones will get us to our destination," study author Hugo Spiers explains. "When we have technology telling us which way to go, however, these parts of the brain simply don't respond." This study backs up research suggesting GPS causes people to ignore their surroundings. But researchers say there could be greater implications to a reliance on GPS. Spiers describes the brain as a muscle and navigating London as "bodybuilding," per Scientific American. Using GPS means the brain doesn't get its exercise, he says. A researcher theorizes that the hippocampus may begin to develop differently in humans over time. (Just hope GPS doesn't put you up a pole.)

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