"Homing signal" in brain steers us in right direction
If you know people who never seem to get lost, it may be mainly because their brain is wired to give them a good sense of direction. Scientists at University College London say they’ve located a part of the brain that provides a kind of “homing signal” that continually updates as we move around.
The study, published in the journal Current Biology, found that the part of the brain that lets us know which way to face–called the entorhinal region–also signals in which direction we need to travel to get to our destination. People who are better navigators simply seem to have stronger homing signals. Scientists have long thought that this kind of signal exists, but that thinking had always been based on speculation.
For the study, 16 healthy volunteers were asked to navigate a computer simulation of a square environment with four walls. Each wall showed a different landscape and each corner displayed a different object, After becoming familiar with the environment, the volunteers were placed in a certain corner in the computer simulation, then asked to navigate to another corner. All the while, the researchers recorded their brain activity using MRI, to see which areas of the brain were most active as they tried to navigate the space.
The scientists said they were surprised by the “strength and consistency” of brain signals from the entorhinal region as people figured out how they needed to move. They said their next step is to test their findings in a more complicated environment.
The entorhinal region is one of the first areas of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease.