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What Sat Nav does to our memories of a journey

We remember less about the route of a journey if we navigate with Sat Nav rather than use a conventional map.

That is the conclusion of research presented this week at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society’s Cognitive Psychology Section by chartered psychologist Dr Dan Clark from Liverpool Hope University.

Working with Dr Janet Speake and Dr Thomas Smyth from the university’s Department of Geography and Environmental Science, Dr Clark carried out a study with 36 student participants.

The students, who had not been told the purpose of the study, were asked to walk a 3 km route across Liverpool being guided by either a map or a handheld Sat Nav device.

When they returned to the university, participants were asked to complete a number of memory tests including marking the location of a series of landmarks they had passed on their walk.

The results showed that the participants who navigated the route using the map were significantly more accurate at recalling the location of the target landmarks than the participants who were guided by the Sat Nav.

Dr Clark said: “The use of Sat Nav equipment has dramatically increased in recent years. Whilst users can use dedicated devices, satellite navigation is now also readily available through many other technologies such as mobile phones and watches. In the UK new guidelines also include the use of satellite navigation equipment as part of the driving test from December 2017.

 “There has been a lot of research into the use of traditional maps and their impact on spatial memory, but the use of Sat Nav equipment remains comparatively unexplored.

“Our research indicates that participants recalled the location of a series of landmarks an average of 47m closer to their actual location when they had been guided by a map as opposed to a Sat Nav. However, there was no difference in participant’s ability to recall the route travelled.

“This study demonstrates a detriment in recalling landmark locations following a short simple route experienced at a walking pace. Further work should investigate how Sat Nav use affects our spatial memory using other modes of travel and more complex environments.”

Department of Psychology

Department of Geography and Environmental Science 

Published on 20/03/2018