Guess who is better oriented, someone from the city or from rural areas? A new study carried out by French and English scientists has concluded that those who live in rural areas have a better sense of direction than those who have grown up in cities, particularly those who have lived in cities whose structure is made in the form of a grid. .
To reach this conclusion, they tested their hypothesis with a video game: Nearly 400,000 people in 38 countries around the world played a video game called Sea Hero Quest , designed by neuroscientists and game developers as a fun way to collect data about the brains of participants. Players piloted a ship in search of various targets. The results showed that, on average, people who said they had grown up outside of cities , where they would presumably have encountered many winding roads, did better at finding game objectives, compared to people who They had grown up in the cities.
Scientists from the Claude Bernard University of Lyon, the University of East Anglia (UEA) and University College London found that volunteers had unequal abilities in terms of orientation. The extent of this difference varied from country to country : it was very strong in Canada, the United States, Argentina, and Saudi Arabia, and much less palpable in countries such as Austria, France, India, and Vietnam.
Research also shows that, in general, people orient themselves better when faced with topographies close to those traveled during childhood : they are better at navigating long distances if they come from rural areas, and better on a grid plan if they grew up in a rural area. city of this style.
“We found that growing up outside of cities seems to be good for the development of navigation skills, and this seems to be influenced by the lack of complexity of many street networks in cities,” said Hugo Spiers , co-author of the study published in the Nature magazine. “Here, we found that people who grew up in areas with grid streets may have navigation skills comparable to people five years older living in rural areas, and in some areas the difference was even greater.”
What is the reason?
The researchers suggest it may be because the countryside has more cluttered road layouts, which effectively primes the brain to remember and navigate environments. Growing up in a city with a complex topography confers, according to these results, a better sense of orientation.
Usefulness of the experiment
The Sea Hero Quest project was designed to aid Alzheimer’s research by shedding light on differences in space navigation skills. In fact, the data collected in this experiment at a global level could help in the screening and treatment of neurological diseases that directly affect this ability, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Future research could aim to learn more about whether living in a rural area would help protect against dementing conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Let’s remember that Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia worldwide; Worldwide, there are an estimated 46.8 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, numbers that are only expected to increase in the future.
Coutrot A, Manley E, Goodroe S, Gahnstrom C, Filomena G, Yesiltepe D, Dalton RC, Wiener JM, Hölscher C, Hornberger M and Spiers HJ Entropy of city street networks linked to future spatial navigation ability. Nature, 2022 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04486-7