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Your Spatial Navigation Abilities Can Be Influenced By Where You Live

A NATO mil compass rose

A NATO mil compass rose. (Martin Fisch, Flickr)

Apparently, people from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Nordic countries are supposed to have the best spatial navigation abilities. That sounds like a ridiculous claim, but there is actual research behind it.

Researchers collected data from people playing a mobile game called Sea Hero Quest, which tests spatial navigation abilities, and was specially designed to aid dementia research. They collected data from four million people, each of whom had provided their age, gender, and nationality, and were from countries with over five hundred players.

Researchers found that globally people’s spatial navigation abilities decline with age

Orienteering And Driving

Their analysis revealed that spatial navigation universally declines with age. But they also found that certain countries performed better than others. Higher GDP was correlated with better spatial navigation, and researchers speculate this may be due to better education opportunities, health, and ability to travel.

They also speculated about more country-specific reasons for strong performances: Nordic countries share an interest in orienteering, a sport dependent on navigation, while countries like the U.S. and Australia have high rates of driving, which may improve navigation ability. They also saw that men performed better than women, but the gender gap narrowed in wealthier countries that had greater gender equality.

Thank you to Arne Ekstrom of the University of Arizona for reviewing this episode’s script.

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