You better turn off that reassuring GPS voice, for it may be dumbing down a region of your brain, says a new study.
Veronique Bohbot and colleagues at McGill Univeristy have shown that avid GPS users have a higher risk of suffering from memory and spatial orientation problems, reports Discovery News.
The research focused on how humans navigate.
One, deemed spatial navigation strategy, has people relying on landmarks to build cognitive maps. For example, lost people stay keenly aware of unique buildings or how long ago it's been since they left a place in order to figure out their way-without the help of physical maps or GPS.
The second navigation method is a stimulus-response strategy.
Subscribers to this method use a form of auto-pilot mode, turning at certain places because of repetition. For example, people who drive home from work daily along the same route automatically take specific freeway exits or make turns that they've made over and over in the past. This form of navigation is akin to using a GPS device.
The study found that younger respondents relied more on the spatial navigation technique to find their way around a virtual maze. Older participants favoured the GPS-like stimulus-response method.
Researchers used fMRI, or functional magnetic resonance imaging, to scan the brains of people who navigated streets using one of the methods described.
Those who used spatial navigation strategy-the non-GPS method-had increased activity in a part of the brain responsible for memory and navigation called the hippocampus.
The study indicated that who used GPS-like stimulus-response could be at risk for showing atrophy of the hippocampus over time.
Memory loss, including that from Alzheimer's disease, affects the hippocampus first.
The findings were presented at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting.