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Navigational ability visible in brain

Date:
November 25, 2013
Source:
Radboud University Nijmegen
Summary:
The brains of people who immediately know their way after traveling along as a passenger are different from the brains of people who always need a GPS system or a map to get from one place to another.

Diffusion tensor image showing the white matter in the brains of bad navigators. The red colour indicates extra white matter around the caudate nucleus.
Credit: Radboud University Nijmegen

The brains of people who immediately know their way after traveling along as a passenger are different from the brains of people who always need a GPS system or a map to get from one place to another. This was demonstrated by Joost Wegman, who will defend his thesis at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands on the 27th of November.

Wegman demonstrates that good navigators store relevant landmarks automatically on their way. Bad navigators on the other hand, often follow a fixed procedure or route (such as: turn left twice, then turn right at the statue).

Anatomical differences

Wegman also found that there are detectable structural differences between the brains of good and bad navigators. 'These anatomical differences are not huge, but we found them significant enough, because we had a lot of data', the researcher explains. 'The difference is in the hippocampus. We saw that good navigators had more so-called gray matter. In the brain's gray matter information is processed. Bad navigators, on the other hand, have more white matter - which connects gray matter areas with each other - in a brain area called the caudate nucleus. This area stores spatial actions with respect to oneself. For example, to turn right at the record store', Wegman describes.

Questionnaires

For his research, Wegman combined data from several studies done by the Radboud University research group Neural Correlates of Spatial Memory at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.

Wegman: 'We always give participants extensive questionnaires in our studies. This allows us to explain possible differences in behaviour afterwards. People generally have a good insight into their ability to find their way, so these questions provide a feasible way to assess these abilities. I have coupled the answers of these questionnaires with the brain scans we have collected over the years, which allowed us to detect these differences'.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Radboud University Nijmegen. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Radboud University Nijmegen. "Navigational ability visible in brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131125121405.htm>.
Radboud University Nijmegen. (2013, November 25). Navigational ability visible in brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131125121405.htm
Radboud University Nijmegen. "Navigational ability visible in brain." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131125121405.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

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