Where we grew up influences our sense of direction

(ORDO NEWS) — The place where a person grew up has a great influence on his future ability to navigate in space. The sense of direction differs between people who grew up in rural areas and in cities, and the layout of the metropolis also plays a role.

The cultural and geographical characteristics of the environment we encounter in childhood have a great influence on later mental health. However, how the growing environment is related to various cognitive functions has so far remained poorly understood.

Now scientists from the Institute of Neuroscience at University College London (UK) have found that the place where a person grew up affects his sense of direction in adulthood. The ability to navigate in space differs among people from villages and cities with different layouts.

The scientists conducted the research using the video game Sea Hero Quest, which was developed to study Alzheimer’s disease.

It allows you to assess the ability of a person to non-verbal spatial navigation. The players were asked to memorize the map, and then get to a certain place in the virtual city. The study involved 397,162 people from 38 countries.

It turned out that people who grew up in rural areas are much better oriented than urban residents. However, the extent of this difference varied by country. Most of all it was in Canada, the USA, Argentina and Saudi Arabia, and much less significant in Austria, France, India and Vietnam.

After that, the scientists analyzed maps of major cities in the studied countries in order to classify them according to the complexity of planning. Some cities, such as Chicago, are organized in a well defined grid pattern, with most streets radiating at right angles from each other.

In other cities, such as Paris, the layout of the streets is more chaotic, and the angles between them are much more diverse. Growing up in such localities provided a better sense of direction.

At the same time, people were more successful in navigating in places whose topography was similar to what they had been accustomed to since childhood.

Participants who grew up in more structured cities performed better on video game levels where the layout was simpler. People who grew up in rural areas and chaotic cities performed better at levels with more complex virtual spaces.

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