Research pinpoints ‘neural compass’ of brain activity used to orient people –

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Photo by Adobe Stock/HealthDay News

Photo by Adobe Stock/HealthDay News

Researchers have discovered a human “neural compass” in the brain that helps individuals navigate and prevent getting lost.

For the first time, researchers have identified the internal compass humans rely on for orientation and navigation in the human brain, as reported in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

This breakthrough could enhance the understanding of conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson‘s, where navigation and orientation difficulties are common.

Lead researcher Benjamin Griffiths, a psychology fellow at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., emphasized the importance of accurately tracking one’s direction, as even minor errors can have severe consequences.

While birds, rats, and bats have well-defined neural circuitry for navigation, little is known about how the human brain accomplishes this in real-world scenarios, Griffiths explained in a press release.

Traditionally, monitoring neural activity in humans required them to remain still. However, for this study, researchers utilized mobile EEG devices and motion capture technology to analyze brain patterns of moving individuals.

A group of 52 participants adjusted their heads or eyes to orient themselves using cues from various computer screens, while a scalp EEG device recorded their brain activity.

In a separate experiment, 10 participants with electrode implants in their brains due to conditions like epilepsy were also studied for brain wave analysis.

The researchers discovered a precise directional signal in the brain that could be detected just before a person changed their heading.

“Identifying these signals allows us to delve into how the brain processes navigational information and how these signals interact with visual cues like landmarks,” Griffiths said.

He also pointed out the implications of these findings for research on neurodegenerative diseases and advancements in navigational technologies for robotics and AI.

Future investigations will focus on understanding how the brain navigates through time and whether this brain activity is linked to memory, Griffiths stated.

More information

The Alzheimer’s Association offers additional insights on wandering.

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