This takes a lot of guts… and, surprisingly, brainpower

Are you the type of person who’s awesome with directions? Or are you the type of person who will get lost, even if you have 50 maps and 50 GPS’s telling you where to go?

Scientists have pinpointed the cause of this natural ability (or inability) to remember pathways and locations, and it could have massive implications for the future.

Look at this insane biker. He’s clearly in the middle of nowhere, perched atop a mountain. How on earth does he remember where he’s gone, or where he’s supposed to go? I don’t think he’s going to get very good cell phone reception up on that mountain!

Danny Macaskill - The Ridge

Well, a British-American man and a Norwegian married couple recently received the Nobel Prize in medicine for answering this very question. What they found in rats was downright fascinating–the brain creates a mental GPS to help us situate ourselves and find our way around.

The British-American man, John O’Keefe, first stumbled upon the first traces of this mental GPS back in 1971, when he saw that nerve cells were activated in the hippocampus of rats as the animals moved to different locations. As the location changed, these activated nerve cells changed as well!

Later, Edvard and May-Britt Moser worked with O’Keefe and found cells in the entorhinal cortex region of the brains of rats that constantly work to take note of their past, present, and future locations. They dubbed these cells “grid cells,” aptly named for the purpose they serve.

So what are the implications of this? Why should you care?

Scientists now have an even deeper understanding into certain diseases like Alzheimer’s, which affects the brain and could cause a loss in sense of direction. Perhaps one day we’ll even figure out how to ultimately stop the disease from degenerating our spatial perception.

But that’s the future. What can you do now to improve your sense of direction?

It’s simple: you just need to go out and practice. Most people remember directions using two methods: a route-based method, where you remember precise streets and turns, and a landmark-based method, where prominent landmarks provide you with directional clues. Pinpoint which type of method you use and after awhile you may find yourself using your GPS as a backup instead of your go-to device!

For more on the discovery of our mind’s maps, click on this link, and for more information on improving your sense of direction, check out this link!



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