Home LATEST NEWS The environment you grew up in influences your sense of direction

The environment you grew up in influences your sense of direction


The work of Professor Hugo Spiers, of University College London (UCL), and his colleagues at the University of Lyon thus show that people’s orientation abilities are influenced by their geographical origin.

Example of the street networks of the cities of London and New York.

The more organic and complex layout of London streets (left) compared to the grid layout of New York.

Photo: CNRS/Antoine Coutrot/University of Leeds/Ed Manley

We have found that growing up outside of cities is beneficial for the development of navigation skills, and this appears to be related to the lack of complexity of grid street networks in large cities.notes Professor Spiers in a press release published by UCL.

For example, people who grew up in a city with a complex layout (such as Paris or Rome) find their bearings better than those who grew up in a North American city quadrille like Chicago, New York, Toronto or Montreal.

According to the researchers, the contrast is more or less strong depending on the country. Thus, it is very marked in Canada, the United States, Argentina or Saudi Arabia, but much less in France or India.

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Additionally, the research team found that people whose home town was gridded were slightly better at navigating similarly organized streets, although their overall performance was worse.

This work therefore also shows that the early childhood environment influences not only navigation ability, but also navigation style.

In previous work, the researchers had already found that people’s spatial navigation abilities decline with age, starting in early adulthood.

We now find that people who grew up in areas with gridded streets may have navigation skills comparable to people five years older from rural areas, and in some areas the difference is even greater. »

A quote from Hugo Spiers, UCL

These results were obtained by comparing the performance of nearly 400,000 people from 38 countries in video games Sea Hero Quest, a game developed to study Alzheimer’s disease. The latter features an orientation task requiring players to navigate a boat through a virtual environment to find checkpoints marked on a map.

The researchers found that where people grew up influenced their performance in the game, after controlling for the effects of age, gender and level of education. This work has not been able to link the current place of residence to a player’s results.

The team now wants to continue research on navigation ability, including how sleep affects navigation ability in different countries and across the lifespan.

The details of this work are published in the journal Nature (New window) (in English).

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