Sunday, April 15, 2012

Is GPS All in Our Heads?

Article: Is GPS All in Our Heads? NY Times

A question that often arrises is, what did people do before we had a GPS? How did we find our way around? To our surprise, humans are actually good at developing "mental maps" of an area and remembering their surroundings. The more humans create mental maps, the better they get it at. Researchers are now saying, since we are beginning to rely solely on GPS devices, will we lose the skill to remember our surroundings and create mental maps? Now, when we explore a new territory we perceive landmarks along a route, and then we remember their position and spatial relations between streets, locations, etc, and we are able to develop survey knowledge which indicates directions so we can navigate comfortably. Often, we use real maps to aid in this process. If a map helps us, then what is wrong with a GPS? It is very likely that the more we rely on technology to find our way around, the less we build up these cognitive maps. GPS does not provide the spatial context of the whole area it is navigating, so we miss out on that aspect of creating a cognitive map. Our brains try to decrease the amount of information stored by getting rid of things we do not need, so we might lose this skill because we are not pushing our brains to work harder. How can we avoid losing our mental maps? Practice. Try and rely less and less on GPS devices in order to help your brain form cognitive maps from memory. It is important to fill your memories with your own navigational experience to give your brain a chance to live up to its full capabilities.

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