One way to shut down travel anxiety is to use a navigation app, but your brain will probably shut down too. As The Daily Dot reports, a recent study on the effects GPS navigation has on brain functionrevealed that the parts of our brains that control decision-making, memory and planning go on break when we allow GPS to guide us. The findings published in Nature Communications show that parts of the brain switch off because they’re not being engaged like they would be without the assistance of a GPS.
Studies on how smartphone addiction can impact memory revealed similar findings, which shows the extent to which our reliance on technology changes our lives and our bodies.
Researchers monitored brain activity from 24 volunteers while they navigated a simulation of Soho in Central London. They mapped the city streets in order to learn how the brain’s hippocampus (memory and navigation) and pre-frontal cortex (decision-making and planning) responded to them.
The volunteers who navigated on their own showed a drastic increase in brain activity when they encountered new streets. Their brain activity continued to increase with the number of route options, but when volunteers used GPS, their brain activity did not increase.
The study’s senior author Dr. Hugo Spiers explained:
“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,” he says. “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.”
So, basically the brain gets so comfortable with the GPS stepping in, it does the equivalent of heading to the breakroom while everyone else handles the heavy lifting.
This probably won’t stop us from depending on GPS to get us where we need to go, but at least we can be better informed about all the not-so-obvious ways technology interacts with our bodies.