Navigating a City Street Can Enhance Your Brain: A Scientific Study
A scientific study conducted by the University of Carnegie-Mellon has revealed that navigating around a city street can enhance a person’s brain. The study found that the brain can change on a structural level as people learn, highlighting a significant link between spatial learning, memory, and an enlarged hippocampus.
The study involved 28 adults who played a driving video game. Half of the group, the control group, maneuvered along 20 different routes for 45 minutes, while the other half practiced one route repeatedly. The control group wasn’t able to practice enough to learn the details of all 20 routes in the time period. However, the test group could maneuver along that route far faster and do a better job drawing a two-dimensional picture of the route and ordering a series of screenshots taken of the route.
Before and after the testing session, each participant underwent a brain scan using diffusion-weighted imagining (DWI), which measures water molecule activity in the brain. The brain scan found that those who practiced the one route repeatedly showed changes in the left posterior dentate gyrus, which is part of the hippocampus, the region responsible for memory and navigational ability. This area of the brain is also one of the first parts to be afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease.
The research concluded that the test group developed the change in the hippocampus of their brain through their driving. The structural change could also be correlated with how well the test group individuals performed at navigating the route. The researchers noticed an increase in synchronization of activity – or functional connectivity – between the left posterior dentate gyrus and other cortical areas in the network of brain regions responsible for spatial cognition.
The hippocampus is crucial in understanding how our brains organize our memories through time and link our sense of time with our sense of physical places. A recent study by Columbia University, which analyzed the hippocampus in rats, shows that their brain cells – and by implication, ours – are capable of tracking time and distance.
Scientists have understood that navigation and memory are linked in our brains for a long time. Hence, if it is possible to enhance one’s navigational ability, then perhaps this strategy could be used to improve one’s memory at the same time.
Marcel Just, the director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at the University of Carnegie-Mellon, stated, “We’re excited that these results show what re-wiring as a result of learning might refer to. We now know, at least for this type of spatial learning, which area changes its structure and how it changes its communication with the rest of the brain.”
The researchers believe that there remains a great deal of work to be done to see how the link between spatial learning, an enlarged hippocampus, and memory can be used. But it is clear that taxi drivers, who have to navigate endless streets, have a larger hippocampus compared to others. Therefore, their constant navigating has other positive health effects.
In conclusion, navigating around a city street can enhance a person’s brain. The study conducted by the University of Carnegie-Mellon reveals a link between spatial learning, memory, and an enlarged hippocampus, highlighting how our brains organize our memories through time and link our sense of time with our sense of physical places. Scientists believe that these findings have implications for improving memory and other cognitive abilities.