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A mobile game helped to see which nations have the best spatial navigation

Posted August 15, 2018

Being aware of your surroundings is a very good skill to have. If you are able to navigate yourself, you are less likely to get lost and find yourself in trouble. A new research from UCL and the University of East Anglia found that people in Nordic countries, North America, Australia, and New Zealand have the best navigation skills in the world. Furthermore, navigation ability declines as people age.

Nordic nations, North Americans and Antipodeans rank top in navigation skills, but there is no significant difference in terms of gender. Image credit: USDA NRCS via Wikimedia

Study included people from 57 countries. This allowed scientists to see how the spatial navigational abilities vary between people. They found that people in Nordic countries, North America, Australia, and New Zealand have the best navigation skills in the world, but they decline steadily during adulthood. Also, men have better navigation abilities than women, but this gap is insignificant in countries with a better situation of gender equality. Navigation ability is very important for people. It allows us exploring new areas and coming back to the recognized ones. But scientists are not that interested in preventing you getting lost while travelling. Instead they are looking for early signs of dementia.

Sea Hero Quest screenshots

Spatial navigation is a key indicator in Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, its decline would be a good symptom, but scientists didn’t have a benchmark for comparison. Scientists are not sure why in some countries people develop better navigation abilities than in others, but so far scientists have collected data from over four million people who have played Sea Hero Quest. In this game people have to find the way and it is quite popular. But scientists only used data from countries that had at least 500 players so it is not representative of the whole world. Scientists noticed that richer countries, having better standards of education, performed better. Other factors may be contributing as well, for example, popularity of orienteering in Scandinavian countries or high rates of driving in New Zealand, Canada, the United States, and Australia.

Scientists say that in the future this game, first launched by Deutsche Telekom in 2016, may be used as a screening tool for an early warning sign of dementia. Dr Hugo Spiers, lead author of the study, said: “Standard current tests for dementia don’t effectively tap into the primary initial symptom of being disoriented in space, so we are trying to find an easy way of measuring that, efficiently validated by crowd-sourcing our data”.

Economic factors seem to be very important for navigation abilities. Better education provides people with better skills and curiosity, which is why they are more likely to explore. And it is nice to see that there is no big gap between genders – education seems to be the most important.

Source: UCL

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