New research published in the journal Nature Communications suggests that we may have an inbuilt GPS system that enables us to find our way.
Dutch researchers Jeroen Bos, Martin Vinck, Cyriel Pennartz and colleagues have “identified a new type of neuron which might play a vital role in humans' ability to navigate their environments.”
An article in Science Daily gives us the gist of what they found out:
“The ability to make fine grained assessments of location is seated in the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped structure located in the temporal lobe. Research shows that the precise mechanism for navigation includes hippocampal place cells, which increase or decrease in electrical activity depending on one's location. However, when making their daily commute, people don't need very detailed representations of which houses they pass in which order. Instead, they can make due with more course information.”
They made rats navigate their way in a maze and looked at what parts of the brain they mainly used.
Jeroen Bos, the lead author of the paper, thinks they found a new type of neuron, which they dubbed the ‘neighbourhood cell.’
“This neuron seems to enable the brain to specifically differentiate between distinct segments (‘neighbourhoods’) of the environment,” he says.