Using a GPS to reach your destination may be throwing your brain off track, new research has revealed.
A study published in Nature Communications found that frequent GPS use might actually be making you a worse natural navigator, as relying on technology to get from Point A to Point B doesn’t engage your brain the same way navigating on your own does.
In the study, 24 participants navigated a video simulation of London, England with and without a satellite navigation system. When participants didn’t rely on technology, their hippocampi (responsible for mental maps of our surroundings) and their prefrontal cortex (responsible for decision-making) became more active when choosing which streets to venture down. Their brains didn’t experience this same activation when they used the GPS, and actually looked identical whether they arrived at a fork in the road or were simply continuing along the same path.
The hippocampus helps us picture what’s before us, while the prefrontal cortex aids us in selecting a path, explained study author Hugo Spiers.
“When we have technology telling us which way to go, however, these parts of the brain simply don't respond to the street network. In that sense our brain has switched off its interest in the streets around us,” he said.
These findings don’t necessarily mean you should ditch the GPS, however. Study author Homayoun Javadi told Live Science that using a GPS may, in fact, free up those parts of your brain responsible for navigation and allow them to concentrate on other things, instead; finding the best nearby hole in the wall for a local brew, just as an example.