December 7, 2022

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Why is your sense of direction better if you're coming from the countryside?

Why is your sense of direction better if you’re coming from the countryside?

Can you always find your way blindly? Or do you need to navigate when you get to a place you’ve never been before? It may have to do with the environment in which you were born. According to scientific research, residents of rural areas have a more developed sense of direction than city dwellers. How can this be explained?

How was the meaning of direction studied?

An international group of researchers published the findings in the journal in early 2022 temper nature. The Meaning of Find Direction is designed as a video game. Nearly 400,000 respondents have to find their way in larger and smaller virtual environments. Out-of-town participants often do better at this than city-dwellers, and this is the study’s main conclusion.

What is the reason for this?

In your youth you learn a certain orientation that you will continue to use for the rest of your life. The environment in which you grew up is critical to developing your sense of direction. Rural people from an early age learn to look for landmarks and thus orient themselves in a large environment.

And what if you grew up in a city that had a clear, well-arranged, and regular street plan? Then you have to go a relatively small distance for most practical matters. You know your living environment, but it’s easy to get lost in large rural areas or in more complex cities.

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How big is this difference in trend?

The older you get, the more your navigation skills deteriorate. For people who grew up in the countryside – and who are good at their way around anyway – this is less difficult than for city dwellers. “Now we see that people who grew up in an area with a rectangular street style are on the same level of navigation as rural residents over 5 years old. This difference was even greater in some areas” de Volkskrant Hugo Spiers is one of the researchers.

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What can we conclude from this?

Previous research has already shown that green environments – which could also be city parks, by the way – have a positive effect on your brain activity. Growing in such a green environment is good for your brain and sense of direction. Could a walk in nature or in the park also help prevent dementia? Symptoms of dementia are often related to brain activity and a sense of direction.

This seems like an obvious conclusion, but it must first be investigated further. Taiwanese and Chinese studies show the opposite trend. Dementia is more common in rural areas than in cities, which is the purpose of that study. Because outside the city, health care and other medical aid is far and less available than in the city. Of course, the difference between urban and rural areas in the Netherlands is smaller. But still: living in a city and in the country has its pros and cons, as it turned out.

(Source: Nature, Research In Transportation Economics, De Volkskrant, Environmental Neuroscience Lab, National Library of Medicine, Alzheimers Dement. Photo: Shutterstock)