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 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:
- 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.