Do you get confused easily while walking? Then there’s a good chance you grew up in a city. Especially if that city has streets perpendicular to each other in a grid, as in New York, it doesn’t help your navigation skills.
Growing up in a city can negatively affect your sense of direction. This is evidenced by research in which scientists tested the navigational ability of nearly 400,000 people from 38 countries using a video game sea hero questwhich you can play on your mobile phone.
Here you first fill in some questions about your age, gender, education level and where you grew up. Then the game begins, where you guide the tugboat through a virtual maze. Your goal is to sail the boat across a number of flags as fast as you can, since you can see its location briefly on the map. The faster you do it, the higher your starfish score.
“The game was developed to help clinicians diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in patients,” says brain scientist Antoine Cotro of the French research institute CNRS. “Difficulty with navigation is an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease.”
But the ability to navigate varies greatly from person to person. This is why it is difficult for a doctor to determine whether someone is always bad at navigating, or whether it is due to Alzheimer’s disease.
Age, gender and education level are known to affect your mobility skills. This gave rise to the idea of using a game to build a database with information about diverse healthy people. For example, a doctor can compare the score of 65-year-old Mr. Janssen, who grew up in Amsterdam and has a university education, with subjects from the database with a similar profile. This helps him estimate if he scores significantly poorly and thus may be in an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease.
city or country
sea hero quest It was much more successful than expected. More than four million people worldwide participated. This yielded a large amount of information that scientists can also use to conduct other research. For example, they investigated the effect of where you grew up on navigational ability. The results appeared in the journal temper nature†
The main finding was that people who grew up outside the cities are better at getting around than people who grew up in the city. This effect becomes clear when you consider that older adults navigate worse than younger adults.
For example, it turns out that a 75-year-old woman who grew up in the countryside is, on average, just commuting as well as a 65-year-old woman who grew up in a city.
Complex street plan
“But that wasn’t the only thing,” says Cotrott. To our surprise, the results differed from state to state. After a more thorough investigation, it turned out that this had something to do with the way cities were designed.
In countries where most city streets are perpendicular to each other in a grid, such as in the United States and South Africa, people who grew up in the city were significantly worse at commuting than those who grew up outside of it. This difference was smaller in countries with more complex cities, such as Prague and Paris. These cities have a more complex street structure.
Perhaps this is because in a more complex city or countryside, it is more necessary to keep an eye on where you are walking relative to reference points, as paths and streets can twist, leaving you completely unsure of where you are headed at the beginning and end.
This orientation strategy seems to be good for your navigation skills. In Grid City, you can find your way more easily by calculating the turn you need to take.
Cotrott stresses that the study looked at the average effect in a large group of people. Growing up in a more complex environment does not guarantee that you will be able to navigate well. “I grew up in Paris, a complex city,” he says. “But I’m really bad at finding my way around.”
Devoted music ninja. Zombie practitioner. Pop culture aficionado. Webaholic. Communicator. Internet nerd. Certified alcohol maven. Tv buff.