News Item

Nav ability visible in brain

Brains of those who immediately know their way after travelling as a passenger are different from those needing a satnav or map.

This has been demonstrated by Joost Wegman - who has defended his thesis at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

He has demonstrated that good navigators store relevant landmarks automatically on their way. But bad navigators, on the other hand, often follow a fixed procedure or route - such as 'turn left twice, then turn right at the statue'.

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'.

He adds ‘The difference is in the hippocampus. We saw that good navigators had more so-called grey matter - in the brain's grey matter information is processed. Bad navigators, on the other hand, have more white matter ­- which connects grey 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'.

On his trials, Wegman explains: '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'.

For more information, see the Radboud University Nijmegen link below.

  • 30 November 2013
  • R and D

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