A study in Nature Communications has identified parts of the brain used while navigating in a new environment.
It found that when using satellite navigation, those areas of the brain were “switched off”.
“We show that, specifically when new streets are entered during navigation, right posterior hippocampal activity indexes the change in the number of local topological connections available for future travel and right anterior hippocampal activity reflects global properties of the street entered,” said the researchers.
“When forced detours require replanning of the route to the goal, bilateral inferior lateral prefrontal activity scales with the planning demands of a breadth-first search of future paths.”
These results will help shape models of how hippocampal and prefrontal regions support navigation, planning, and future simulation.
The hippocampus appears to produce two maps of the environment. One tracks the straight-line distance to the destination and is encoded by the frontal region of the hippocampus, the other model is in the rear of the hippocampus and tracks the “true path” to the goal.
While navigating, the hippocampus flips between these two maps depending on the information you need.
When participants followed the instructions of a navigation system, however, brain activity in the regions of the brain that previously lit up while navigating switched off.