March 22, 2017

“If you think about the brain as a muscle, then certain activities, like learning maps of London’s streets, are like bodybuilding...”

Scientific American: “There have been hundreds of papers about simulating the future, but nobody's looked at it in the context of spatial navigation,” says Hugo Spiers, senior author... By Mo Costandi

'The neuroscientist was involved in a series of well-known studies that showed the hippocampus’s rear region is enlarged in London taxi drivers, and the extent of the increase is directly related to the driver’s experience. “The upshot of this [new] study is that the activity we saw at the back of the right hippocampus fits with theories that it’s simulating possibilities of paths to travel,” he says. The findings could aid in designing “spaces that are easier to navigate and increase well-being” and, because declining spatial navigation ability is among the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, could facilitate the design of “new buildings that are dementia-friendly,” he adds.

'Spiers is cautious about the observation that these brain regions were inactive when participants used SatNav instructions, however. “We found that you only engage the hippocampus and frontal areas when you’re using your memory of the environment to navigate, but this is just a one-off study, so we don’t know the long-term consequences of using SatNav.”

'“If you think about the brain as a muscle, then certain activities, like learning maps of London’s streets, are like bodybuilding,” he says, “and all we can really say from our new findings is that you’re not working out these particular bits of the brain when you’re relying on SatNav.”'

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