A recent study from University College of London has found that using a GPS (or “Satnav”) actually turns off the parts of your brain that would, in other circumstances, be considering alternative routes.
The study compared brain activity in people navigating London streets with a GPS or manually. They found that there was increased activity in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex in the manual navigators compared to the GPS users.
The researchers said, “if you are having a hard time navigating the mass of streets in a city, you are likely putting high demands on your hippocampus and prefrontal cortex… our results fit with models in which the hippocampus simulates journeys on future possible paths while the prefrontal cortex helps us to plan which ones will get us to our destination. When we have technology telling us which way to go, however, these parts of the brain simply don’t respond to the street network. In that sense our brain has switched off its interest in the streets around us.”
This finding elaborates on previous research. Richard Frackowiak has studied the brains of London taxi drivers and found that they have both an outsized knowledge of the streets and maps of London, and a significantly enlarged hippocampus.
You can read more at Science Daily.