Science and Tech


Blame Your GPS For Your Crappy Sense Of Direction

Navigation is a use-it-or-lose-it skill, and GPS is only helping you lose it.
Posted at 4:39 PM, Apr 06, 2016

"Continue on this route. Then, at your destination, you will arrive. Yes, feel the force now, do you?" asked the voice of Yoda in a VoiceSkins demo.

If you're using GPS navigation, it could be dulling your sense of direction, and not even the wisdom of Yoda can protect you.

Citing multiple navigational studies, a correspondent for Nature says navigation is a use-it-or-lose-it skill.

Put simply: When our eyes and ears are trained on our smartphones, they're not aware of the outside world, and we start to lose our ability to navigate.

On the other hand, when we do train our navigational skills, the human brain physically responds. In one study, the memory-retaining portion of the brain — the hippocampus — literally grew in size after taxi drivers committed routes to memory.

So what's the takeaway? It's really quite simple: A spatial cognition psychologist at Tufts University suggests you pay attention to your environment.

GPS is handy, but there are cognitive downsides to relying solely on technology-based navigation.

"Maybe it's a shortcut, Dwight. It said go to the right," said Steve Carell.

"It can't mean that. There's a lake there!" shouted Rainn Wilson.

"I think it knows where it is going," Carell responded.

"This is the lake!" Wilson shouted.

"The machine knows. Stop yelling at me!" Carell responded.

"No, there's no road here!" Wilson cried.

This video includes clips from VoiceSkinsSpeck and NBC.