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Cities have a negative impact navigation ability: Evidence from mass online assessment via Sea Hero Quest

Research output: Book/Report/ProceedingsProceedings

  • Antoine Coutrot
  • E Patai
  • Ricardo Silva
  • Ed Manley
  • Jan Wiener
  • Ruth Conroy-Dalton
  • Christoph Hoelscher
  • Michael Hornberger
  • Hugo Spiers


Animals display remarkable adaptation to different environments in their navigation abilities. Like other animals humans show an impressive capacity to overcome the challenges of navigating different terrains. These challenges are arguably di"erent in rural and city environments. Cities typically require more discrete decision making on organised street networks, whereas rural environments may require more focus on distal landmarks and travel over greater distances. To examine whether growing up in a rural or a city environment impacts navigation ability we tested people with our virtual navigation test ‘Sea Hero Quest’ which is an app for mobile and tablet devices that requires participants to navigate a virtual boat to various locations marked on pre-shown map and records position and orientation allowing calculation of navigation skill (which we have shown is predictive of real-world navigation performance). Participants (n > 200,000) also reported whether they grew up in a rural, city or a mixed environment, and other demographics (age, gender, country of residence, education, daily commute duration, and handedness). We found that people who report growing up in a city show a consistently a worse level of navigation performance compared to those who report growing up in a rural environment, even when controlling for age, gender and level of education. This result held true in populations from all tested countries, but the e"ect size varied substantially: the US had the biggest di"erence (Hedge’s g = 0.23) while Germany showed only a small di"erence (g = 0.08). While city vs rural environment did not interact with age (see Figure), the superior navigation ability of those with post- high-school education widened with age. Handedness and commute duration had negligible e"ects on navigation ability. To extend this research further we are exploring the relationship between neuroanatomical data and navigation performance using magnetic resonance imaging and will present preliminary