Why are some people better at navigating through roads than others?

Until not too long ago, it had been unclear why some people navigate through roads better than others and what in the brain is responsible for creating this ‘sense of direction’. In a recent study published in Current Biology, University College London (UCL) scientists have discovered the part of the brain responsible for producing our ‘sense of direction’ and a way for measuring it.

In order for a person to navigate from his/her initial position to a final destination, he/she must know what direction (north, south, east or west) they are facing first and what direction they will be facing at their final destination. The part of the brain that signals both of these directions is called the entorhinal region. According to researchers, the strength of these signals are what determine the navigational ability of a person and have developed a way to measure it using functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI.

The entorhinal region, coloured in red, in the brain.

Also, the results from the study support the idea that as you move through an area, you have an internal compass that readjusts accordingly. For every turn that one takes, his/her entorhinal region makes an adjustment. The reason some people get lost after making too many turns is because their entorhinal region in their brain has to process a shift in the starting and final directions after every turn and after many turns, has difficulty keeping up.

A part of a detailed travel map of Rome city center.

The Entorhinal Region’s Relation to Alzheimer’s disease

In Alzheimer’s disease, the part of the brain that is affected first is the entorhinal region and so, the findings from the study help support why individuals with this disease feel lost in its beginning stages.

Furthermore, understanding why certain people are better navigators than others helps to explain the problems with the processes that occur in people with degenerative brain disorders, such as dementia, a disorder estimated to affect 850,000 people in the UK only.

For further reading about this topic, you can find the article at the following link: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/12/141218131425.htm

The research journal paper of the study could be found at this link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014.11.001

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