Could Relying On GPS Alter Our Natural Navigation Instincts? | KERA News

Could Relying On GPS Alter Our Natural Navigation Instincts?

Jun 21, 2019

The way we navigate the world has transformed with the advent of GPS devices, but some researchers say overreliance on that technology can affect our natural wayfinding abilities. 

Author M.R. O’Connor joins "Think" host Krys Boyd to talk about the findings in her new book, called “Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World."

O'Connor says wayfinding can change the structure of the brain.

"Neuroscientists are finding that this is a highly plastic part of the brain, and what that means is it's highly susceptible to experience," she says, "so it seems to be a classic case of this, 'the brain is a muscle,' and the more you exercise it, the sort of stronger it gets."

O'Connor says when people rely on GPS devices to give them turn-by-turn directions, they aren't always navigating landmarks in a way that helps them remember places and how to get there. Still, she says ancient tracking skills can be used in everyday life, especially when we take time to find our way without a navigation device.

"We are using incredibly ancient skills," she says. "We are envisioning a route that we need to take... In a way, we do utilize a lot of those same skills, and I think it is true that today, we are, it seems, eager to offload a lot of those tasks to technology when we can and things that make it more convenient or efficient to get from one place [to] another."