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Could Relying On GPS Alter Our Natural Navigation Instincts?

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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."The KERA News conversation

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." 

Copyright 2019 KERA

Syeda Hasan is KUT's development and affordability reporter. She previously worked as a reporter at Houston Public Media covering county government, immigrant and refugee communities, homelessness and the Sandra Bland case. Her work has been heard nationally on public radio shows such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Marketplace.
Syeda Hasan
Syeda Hasan covers mental health for KERA News. A Houston native, her journalism career has taken her to public radio newsrooms around Texas.