Study finds neural differences in good navigators

November 27, 2013, Radboud University Nijmegen
Diffusion tensor image showing the white matter in the brains of bad navigators. The red colour indicates extra white matter around the caudate nucleus.

The brains of people who immediately know their way after travelling along as a passenger are different from the brains of people who always need a GPS system or a map to get from one place to another. This was demonstrated by Joost Wegman, who will defend his thesis at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands on the 27th of November.

Wegman demonstrates that good navigators store relevant landmarks automatically on their way. Bad navigators on the other hand, often follow a fixed procedure or route (such as: turn left twice, then turn right at the statue).

Anatomical differences

Wegman also found that there are detectable structural differences between the brains of good and bad navigators. 'These anatomical differences are not huge, but we found them significant enough, because we had a lot of data', the researcher explains. 'The difference is in the hippocampus. We saw that good navigators had more so-called gray matter. In the 's gray matter information is processed. Bad navigators, on the other hand, have more – which connects areas with each other – in a brain area called the caudate nucleus. This area stores spatial actions with respect to oneself. For example, to turn right at the record store', Wegman describes.

Questionnaires

For his research, Wegman combined data from several studies done by the Radboud University research group Neural Correlates of Spatial Memory at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.

Wegman: 'We always give participants extensive questionnaires in our studies. This allows us to explain possible differences in behaviour afterwards. People generally have a good insight into their ability to find their way, so these questions provide a feasible way to assess these abilities. I have coupled the answers of these questionnaires with the brain scans we have collected over the years, which allowed us to detect these differences'.

Explore further: MR spectroscopy shows differences in brains of preterm infants

More information: Wegman, J. & Janzen, G. "Neural encoding of objects relevant for navigation and resting state correlations with navigational ability." Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 23, 3841–3854 (2011).

Wegman, J. et al. "Gray and white matter correlates of navigational ability in humans." Human Brain Mapping (in press). DOI: 10.1002/hbm.22349

Related Stories

MR spectroscopy shows differences in brains of preterm infants

November 26, 2013
Premature birth appears to trigger developmental processes in the white matter of the brain that could put children at higher risk of problems later in life, according to a study being presented next week at the annual meeting ...

Brain imaging differences in infants at genetic risk for Alzheimer's

November 25, 2013
Researchers from Brown University and Banner Alzheimer's Institute have found that infants who carry a gene associated with increased risk for Alzheimer's disease tend to have differences in brain development compared to ...

Cocaine exposure in the womb: The brain structure is intact but development is off track

September 25, 2013
Prenatal cocaine exposure affects both behavior and brain. Animal studies have shown that exposure to cocaine during in utero development causes numerous disruptions in normal brain development and negatively affects behavior ...

Different gene expression in male and female brains may help explain sex differences in brain disorder

November 22, 2013
UCL scientists have shown that there are widespread differences in how genes, the basic building blocks of the human body, are expressed in men and women's brains.

Recommended for you

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

A 'touching sight': How babies' brains process touch builds foundations for learning

January 16, 2018
Touch is the first of the five senses to develop, yet scientists know far less about the baby's brain response to touch than to, say, the sight of mom's face, or the sound of her voice.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.