5.28.2015

Old School GPS

I've made the decision to go old school when it comes to navigating our outlearning adventures. Besides the obvious reasons- fostering map skills for Janie Kathryn and GPS isn't always accurate and can be a dangerous distraction- there is compelling research that suggests that GPS isn't good for our brains.

I mentioned that we used maps for navigating a recent trip in the Missouri Ozarks and I've had several really engaging conversations about this over the past year. So, I thought I'd share some of the information I've come across. Here are two articles to use as jumping off points, if you are interested in reading more about brain-based research.



Lazy Brains and Fewer Memories
In this Boston Globe article, Leon Neyfakh writes:

"With the arrival of personal GPS devices in cars or phones, the tough cognitive work involved in mental mapping was suddenly rendered less necessary. Gary Burnett, an associate professor in the engineering department at the University of Nottingham in England, wanted to know what effect that actually had on people’s ability to navigate. In 2005, he set up an experiment using a driving simulator in which test subjects were asked to complete a set of four routes. Half of them were given step-by-step instructions that guided them right to their destination, while the other half were given traditional paper maps. Afterward they were quizzed on what they’d seen, and asked to sketch a rough map of their route. The drivers who had merely followed instructions did significantly worse on all fronts. They even failed to recognize that they’d been led past certain places twice from different angles."

"When we use GPS, the research indicates, we remember less about the places we go, and put less work into generating our own internal picture of the world. Often referred to as mental maps, these schematics tell us where things are in relation to each other and allow us to navigate among them. They are as powerful as they are mysterious, even to specialists who have devoted their careers to studying how they work. 'They are very individual,' said Julia Frankenstein, a researcher at the Center for Cognitive Science at the University of Freiburg in Germany. 'The things which matter to you might be completely different to those that matter to your wife or your children.'"


Building Gray Brain Matter
In this New York Times article,  Julia Frankenstein writes:  

"The psychologist Eleanor A. Maguire and her colleagues at University College London found that spatial experience actually changes brain structures. As taxi drivers learned the spatial layout of London, the gray matter in their hippocampal areas — that is, the areas of the brain integrating spatial memories — increased. But if the taxi drivers’ internal GPS grew stronger with use, it stands to reason that the process is reversible after disuse. You may degrade your spatial abilities when not training them, as with someone who learned a musical instrument and stopped playing."

"Navigating, keeping track of one’s position and building up a mental map by experience is a very challenging process for our brains, involving memory (remembering landmarks, for instance) as well as complex cognitive processes (like calculating distances, rotating angles, approximating spatial relations). Stop doing these things, and it’ll be harder to pick them back up later."

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