Country people 'less likely to get lost' says new research

country people

People grow up in the countryside are better at finding their way around than people raised in towns, according to a new study - Credit: Archant

For those who live in the countryside and are frequently asked for directions, it might seem little more than confirmation of something they have long suspected....

Scientists have discovered that those with rural backgrounds are better at finding their way around than those raised in towns.

New research involving the University of East Anglia (UEA) suggests country-dwellers have to remember more complex routes and landmarks than those accustomed to the more regimented layouts of urban areas.

Scientists from the UEA, along with colleagues from University College London (UCL) and the University of Lyon in France, used a computer game to test people's so-called spatial navigation skills and assess how they are affected by age.

Some 400,000 people from 38 countries played Sea Hero Quest, which was created by Deutsche Telekom in partnership with the UEA, UCL, Alzheimer’s Research and game developers Glitchers - to detect people at risk of Alzheimer’s.

Joint senior author of the new study, Prof Michael Hornberger, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We designed Sea Hero Quest because we wanted to better-understand dementia by seeing how the brain works in relation to spatial navigation.

“For the study, people played the game, which features a wayfinding task that required them to navigate a boat through a virtual environment to find checkpoints shown on a map.

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“We found that where people grew up influenced their performance in the game, even after controlling for confounding effects of age, gender and education levels. "

Lead researcher Professor Hugo Spiers, from the UCL, said: “We found that growing up outside of cities appears to be good for the development of navigational abilities, and this seems to be influenced by the lack of complexity of many street networks in cities."

To test if people from cities could more effectively navigate environments comparable to where they grew up, the researchers developed a city-themed version of the game, called City Hero Quest.

city hero quest

A still from the City Hero Quest Game - Credit: Coutrot et Al, Nature 2022

Dr Antoine Coutrot from the University of Lyon said: “Growing up somewhere with a more complex layout of roads or paths might help with navigational skills as it requires keeping track of direction when you’re more likely to be making multiple turns at different angles, while you might also need to remember more streets and landmarks for each journey.”

The Sea Hero Quest project was designed to aid Alzheimer’s research.

Prof Hornberger said: "We are seeking to use the knowledge we have gained from Sea Hero Quest to develop better disease monitoring tools, such as for diagnostics or to track drug trial outcomes."

The research has been published in the journal Nature.