How many of those who are reading this article know what a satellite navigator is? Probably all since, since the first car navigators have been made available to date, anyone has been able to see for themselves what this tool allows you to do, also thanks to their presence on smartphones (Google Maps, for example),

If we were in a conference and asked how many have ever used a satellite navigator to move in or out of a city, we would probably see everyone's hands raised.
And if we asked how many they use usually this instrument, also in this case the raised hands would be many, probably those of most of the people present in the room.

A widespread opinion, not only among specialists, is that the use of the satellite navigator "lazy" the brain. But is it really so?

Dahmani and Bohbot[1] they tried to verify it experimentally and, in particular, they tried to understand if the use of the sat nav worsens your orientation skills.

To understand what research is, however, a premise.

When we orient ourselves and move in a new environment we typically rely on two types of strategy[1]:

  • Space mnemonic strategy. It concerns the learning of reference points and their relative positions, thus contributing to the creation of a cognitive map of the environment. This type of skill is closely related to the hippocampus, the region of the brain functioning involved with episodic memory.
  • Stimulus-response strategy. It is about learning specific motor response sequences from a specific position (for example, "turn right, then go straight and finally turn left"). This ability is closely linked to the caudate nucleus, a brain area underlying procedural learning (for example, cycling).

The second type of strategy leads to more rigid behaviors but would allow us to move in known environments as if we were on autopilot.

Now let's move on to the research ...

Dahmani and Bohbot in the study we are talking about collected a lot of information which are mainly the following:

  • Data from questionnaires compared to the number of hours of use of the satellite navigator, perception of depending on its use and perception of having a sense of orientation.
  • Computerized tests to evaluate orientation skills, learning pathways and the type of orientation strategy used.

All these tests, scales and questionnaires were administered twice, one 3 years apart, to observe the changes over time.

Let's go now to see the results:

  • The people who claimed to use the sat nav more were also those who in the computerized tests on orientation resorted less to the use of spatial mnemonic strategies. This figure was confirmed also by correlating the decline in scores in the computerized text (between the two surveys after 3 years) to the amount of use of the navigator (always over the 3 years). In other words, the more people had used the navigator during the 3 years foreseen by the research, the more their orientation skills in computerized tests deteriorated.
  • As the use of the satellite navigator increased, the use of the stimulus-response strategy increased (contrary to the use of the diminishing spatial mnemonic strategy). This is because GPS navigation is probably similar to the use of the stimulus-response strategy or, at least, it acts on the brain systems themselves.
  • The more you used the satellite navigator, the less you were able to create cognitive maps. This suggests that the use of GPS decreases the ability to create representations of the surrounding environment.
  • Those who used GPS more were less able to grasp the reference points for orientation
  • As the number of hours of use of the satellite navigator increased, the ability to learn new routes decreased.

Overall, the results of this research suggest that regular use of the satellite navigator compromises our ability to learn new routes and orient ourselves.

Two words to explain the difference between the vaccine (which generally requires only one administration or periodic administrations, such as every XNUMX years (as with the hepatitis B vaccine) and the antiviral drug (such as the cocktail for HIV-positive patients, who ingest molecules through daily pills that attack parts of the virus, to directly destroy it). The vaccine consists of the administration of molecules that mimick parts of the virus without being infectious, so that our immune system can develop a memory to recognize those parts (that particular type of antigen) when the virus comes back on the doorstep...this memory in some cases lasts all the life, in other cases (like hepatitis B) a decade or so. Once this immune memory has been developed in our body, the pathogen will have to deal with an extremely powerful arsenal of anti-viral mechanisms (orchestrated by our immune cells) that will kill it in no time (in fact, after we get vaccinated, if we get the flu, we get rid of it without even realizing it...our (memory) immune cells know what to do at that point). Another way to develop this memory is by letting ourselves to be infected — as we've done with lots of infections, with low mortality and low morbidity. The antiviral drug is a molecule that acts against the pathogen too, but it does so on its own — the basic problem of an antiviral is that it doesn't last forever, because everything we eat (the pills) is excreted from our body, in a few hours or few days — but there are also molecules that can float, once you put them into the circle, for quite a few days ...(or techniques that modern pharmacology has been studying for a decade or so, aimed to transform molecules with the objective of extending their permanence in the tissues after being administered, see above: nanotechnology therapy). Bibliography

  1. Dahmani, L., & Bohbot, VD (2020). Habitual use of GpS negatively impacts spatial memory during self-guided navigation. Scientific reports, 10(1), 1-14.

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