- Satnavs are designed to help us navigate more easily from A to B on a journey
- But using the technology makes people more unaware of their surroundings
- People who used traditional map in study were more likely to recall landmarks
They are designed to help us navigate more easily from A to B.
But using a satnav makes people more unaware of their surroundings and less likely to remember the journeys they take, new research has found.
People who used a traditional map in the new study were far more likely to recall landmarks along their route accurately than those who made the same journey using a satnav.
Researchers believe satnavs make people pay less attention to their surroundings because the devices remove the need for the brain to figure out where they are.
In the study, Liverpool Hope University scientists asked 36 students to walk a 40-minute route around the city guided by either a detailed map or a handheld satnav device (file pic)
Chartered psychologist and lead researcher Dr Dan Clark said: ‘A satnav means people don’t need to pay attention to their environment. The satnav updates their position and says “turn left” or “turn right”.
‘Whereas people reading a map obviously need to know where they are so they can update their own position to know when to turn. A satnav does that for you.
‘It’s always been suggested that we glean information about our rotation [where we are and which direction we are facing] automatically, but this would suggest that people are not doing it as well when they use a satnav.
‘One explanation could be that the part of our brain that detects where we are is not as active when we use a satnav. Another could be that we are just not paying attention so we’re not encoding [information about our surroundings].’
For the study, researchers at Liverpool Hope University asked 36 geography students to walk a 40-minute two mile route around the city guided by either a detailed map or a handheld satnav device.
The participants were not told the purpose of the study and were asked to complete memory tests about their route when they returned.
In one test, students were given an undetailed map – with no buildings or landmarks shown on it – and asked to mark on it the route they had taken.
In another, they were shown photographs of points of interest which they had passed on their walk, including a post office, churches and a television studio, and asked to mark on an undetailed map where they were.
The results showed students who used the map were significantly more accurate at recalling the location of landmarks than those who were guided by the satnav. Students who map-read marked the landmarks an average of 150ft closer to their real-life location.
But there was no difference in the students’ ability to remember the route itself.
One explanation could be that the part of our brain (file pic) that detects where we are is not as active when we use a satnav
Dr Clark said: ‘What we found was that the route was very well recalled. That may be because it was a very simple, small route experienced at walking pace.
‘But it might be that the satnav makes participants pay attention to the route – but it doesn’t make them pay attention to their environment. You don’t need to take in your surroundings in the same way.’
He added: ‘This was the first in a series of experiments we plan to conduct and as such, we currently do not know the mechanism that is producing this difference and would not like to speculate what is driving this affect.’
The research is presented today (FRI) at the British Psychological Society’s Cognitive Psychology Section conference in Newcastle.
In future studies the researchers will analyse whether the same effect is seen in rural environments, such as walks over rough terrain, and will consider whether using a satnav affects drivers in the same way.
Satnavs have become a part of everyday life in recent years, with GPS technology now easily available through devices like smartphones and smartwatches.
From December, driving tests in the UK will include a section on using satnavs, as more and more drivers rely on them.
Previous studies have suggested satnavs turns off the part of the brain used for navigation.
A University College London study involved researchers carrying out brain scans on participants as they attempted to navigate a virtual map.
Those finding their way themselves showed spikes of brain activity, while those relying on a satnav showed no additional brain activity.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online