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Global determinants of navigation ability

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Antoine Coutrot
  • Ricardo Silva
  • Ed Manley
  • Will de Cothi
  • Saber Sami
  • Veronique Bohbot
  • Jan Wiener
  • Christoph Hoelscher
  • Ruth Dalton
  • Michael Hornberger
  • Hugo Spiers
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>10/09/2018
<mark>Journal</mark>Current Biology
Issue number17
Number of pages6
Pages (from-to)2861-2866
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date9/08/18
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Countries vary in their geographical and cultural properties. Only a few studies have explored how such variations influence how humans navigate or reason about space. We predicted that these variations impact human cognition, resulting in an organized spatial distribution of cognition at a planetary-wide scale. To test this hypothesis we developed a mobile-app-based cognitive task, measuring non-verbal spatial navigation ability in more than 2.5 million people, sampling populations in every nation state. We focused on spatial navigation due to its universal requirement across cultures. Using a clustering approach, we find that navigation ability is clustered into five distinct, yet geographically related, groups of countries. Specifically, the economic wealth of a nation was predictive of the average navigation ability of its inhabitants, and gender inequality was predictive of the size of performance difference between males and females. Thus, cognitive abilities, at least for spatial navigation, are clustered according to economic wealth and gender inequalities globally, which has significant implications for cross-cultural studies and multi-centre clinical trials using cognitive testing.