CogniFit's Science blog: Has Your Brain Become Too Reliant On GPS?

Has Your Brain Become Too Reliant On GPS?

Technology continues to evolve, develop and impress. Each new step is equally remarkable as the last. In the other hand, are we becoming reliant on devices in areas we used to actually think a little about? While each piece of equipment is fascinating, what is even more impressive is the human brain and what it is actually capable of.

When you talk to kids and teenagers about communication, they immediately think of cell phones and texting. As you talk to the general adult population about driving, GPS and navigation systems first pop into mind. But what people do not realize is that it is possible to weaken cognitive skills and capabilities by becoming too reliant on such devices.

The human brain is truly remarkable as it is fully capable of developing mental maps of specific areas. New research shows that the more we use our cognitive skills, the stronger they will grow. However, neglect can gradually dissipate the power and ability to do just that.

The concept behind a mental map days back to the 1940’s when psychologist Edward C. Tolman demonstrated that “learning consists not in stimulus-response connections but in the building up in the nervous system of sets which function like cognitive maps.”

This is a concept that was picked up and continues today. Typically you will travel the same routes and pass the same landmarks along the way to get through your everyday life. As you remember which store is on which street, where certain parks are, and where various billboards reside, you can actually find your way around without any directions whatsoever.

What you may not realize is physical maps can up build cognitive maps in the brain as well. If you can depict spatial relations in a big context, they can actually act as a reference to add navigational experience in the long run.

With all of that said, what could be the problem with using your GPS system? The underlying fact is the more you rely on technology the less your cognitive map will build up. The brain works in extraordinary ways, but it ultimately builds off of experience. If you are not working it out it is not going to develop.

It is true that you may eliminate the chance of getting lost by using a navigation system. It is true that you will simplify the trip and overall burden of paying attention on the road. But the negative effects can be great when it comes to brain development and your cognitive map. Like everything, it is always a question of balance.