Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How we use the 'GPS' inside our brain to navigate

Date:
June 5, 2014
Source:
Wellcome Trust
Summary:
The way we navigate from A to B is controlled by two brain regions which track the distance to our destination, according to new research. The study found that at the beginning of a journey, one region of the brain calculates the straight-line to the destination ('the distance as a crow flies'), but during travel a different area of the brain computes the precise distance along the path to get there.

The study found that at the beginning of a journey, one region of the brain calculates the straight-line to the destination ('the distance as a crow flies'), but during travel a different area of the brain computes the precise distance along the path to get there.
Credit: © alphaspirit / Fotolia

The way we navigate from A to B is controlled by two brain regions which track the distance to our destination, according to new research funded by the Wellcome Trust and published in Current Biology.

Related Articles


The study found that at the beginning of a journey, one region of the brain calculates the straight-line to the destination ('the distance as a crow flies'), but during travel a different area of the brain computes the precise distance along the path to get there.

The findings pinpoint the precise brain regions used and in doing so change how scientists believed we use our brain to navigate. Previously, researchers had disagreed over whether the brain calculates a route or calculates the straight-line to a destination. By revealing that the brain does both this research indicates not only that both ideas were correct, but should also be integrated.

Dr Hugo Spiers and his team at UCL used film footage to recreate the busy streets of Soho in London (UK) inside an MRI scanner. Study participants were asked to navigate through the district, famous for its winding roads and complex junctions, whilst their brain activity was monitored. The researchers analysed brain activity during the different stages of the journey: setting course for the destination, keeping track of the destination while travelling, and decision making at street junctions.

The team found that activity in the entorhinal cortex, a region essential for navigation and memory, was sensitive to the straight-line distance to the destination when first working out how to get there. By contrast, during the rest of the journey, the posterior hippocampus, also famous for its role in navigation and memory, became active when keeping track of the path needed to reach the destination.

The results also reveal what happens in our brain when we use a Sat Nav or GPS to get to a destination. By recording brain activity when participants used Sat Nav-like instructions to reach their goal, the researchers found that neither of the brain regions tracked the distance to the destination and in general the brain was much less active.

Dr Spiers said: "Our team developed a new strategy for testing navigation and found that the way our brain directs our navigation is more complex than we imagined, calculating two types of distance in separate areas of the brain." He also commented on how the results might explain why London taxi drivers famously end up with an enlarged posterior hippocampus: "Our results indicate that it is the daily demand on processing paths in their posterior hippocampus that leads to the impressive expansion in their grey matter."

"These findings help us understand the mechanisms by which the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex guide navigation. The research is also a substantial step towards understanding how we use our brain in real world environments, of which we currently know very little."

Dr John Williams, head of clinical activities, neuroscience and mental health at the Wellcome Trust said: "These findings provide insight into the underlying biology of mental health conditions which affect our memory. The hippocampus and entorhinal cortex are among the first regions to be damaged in the dementia associated with Alzheimer's disease and these results provide some explanation as to why such patients struggle to find their way and become lost. Combining these findings with clinical work could enable medical benefits in the future."


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Lorelei R. Howard, Amir Homayoun Javadi, Yichao Yu, Ravi D. Mill, Laura C. Morrison, Rebecca Knight, Michelle M. Loftus, Laura Staskute, Hugo J. Spiers. The Hippocampus and Entorhinal Cortex Encode the Path and Euclidean Distances to Goals during Navigation. Current Biology, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.05.001

Cite This Page:

Wellcome Trust. "How we use the 'GPS' inside our brain to navigate." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140605141605.htm>.
Wellcome Trust. (2014, June 5). How we use the 'GPS' inside our brain to navigate. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140605141605.htm
Wellcome Trust. "How we use the 'GPS' inside our brain to navigate." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140605141605.htm (accessed January 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Binge-Watching TV Linked To Loneliness

Binge-Watching TV Linked To Loneliness

Newsy (Jan. 29, 2015) — Researchers at University of Texas at Austin found a link between binge-watching TV shows and feelings of loneliness and depression. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Signs You Might Be The Passive Aggressive Friend

Signs You Might Be The Passive Aggressive Friend

BuzzFeed (Jan. 28, 2015) — "No, I&apos;m not mad. Why, are you mad?" Video provided by BuzzFeed
Powered by NewsLook.com
City Divided: A Look at Model Schools in the TDSB

City Divided: A Look at Model Schools in the TDSB

The Toronto Star (Jan. 27, 2015) — Model schools are rethinking how they engage with the community to help enhance the lives of the students and their parents. Video provided by The Toronto Star
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Saves Pennies For 65 Years

Man Saves Pennies For 65 Years

Rooftop Comedy (Jan. 26, 2015) — A man in Texas saved every penny he found for 65 years, and this week he finally cashed them in. Bank tellers at Prosperity Bank in Slaton, Texas were shocked when Ira Keys arrived at their bank with over 500 pounds of loose pennies stored in coffee cans. After more than an hour of sorting and counting, it turned out the 81 year-old was in possession of 81,600 pennies, or $816. And he&apos;s got more at home! Video provided by Rooftop Comedy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins