Why Are Some People Bad at Directions?
It’s true that great advances in GPS technology have lessened shame and humiliation of getting lost that so plagued past generations.
But lost people are still out there.
Today it’s more about getting to the supermarket by a logical route than getting to distant places where the satellites can show you the way.
Our navigation skills rest in the regions of the brain responsible for maintaining memory -- the hippocampus and the nearby entorhinal cortex. But it’s not about memory alone. Over the last few decades, scientists have discovered various types of neurons particularly tuned to travel.
In the hippocampus, place cells fire off electrical impulses whenever we enter a familiar location, with each bundle of active cells corresponding uniquely to an individual place. In addition, scientists have found evidence of so-called grid cells in the entorhinal cortex that fire in a repeatable pattern in relation to where we are in a location.
These grid cells are thus critical for maintaining a sense of location in an environment that may be less familiar.
Recent studies indicate that those of us with weaker signals in the entorhinal cortex have a harder time navigating a virtual environment. And it’s theorized that patients with Alzheimer’s often get lost because the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus are some of the first regions of the brain that the degenerative disease decimates.
And finally – once and for all -- in spite of rumors to the contrary, there is no scientific evidence that men are better at reading maps than women are.