Approximately 3% of the population lacks navigational skills despite healthy cognitive function

A recently published study in Plus one reports that developmental topographical disorientation affects approximately 3% of people, with this population’s sense of direction being related to city knowledge, adopted navigational strategies, and gender.

Numerous cognitive processes are involved in navigation, “the ability to move from one place to another, to follow familiar routes, and not to get lost in new and familiar environments.” These include processes such as memory, mental imagery, and attention, among others for environmental features. Also, there are various internal factors that are relevant to navigation, such as: B. Gender, presence of psychiatric disorders or neurological diseases.

In this work, Laura Piccardi and colleagues focused on sense of direction – one’s perception of one’s navigational abilities – in relation to demographic factors (e.g. age, gender), familiarity with the environment, navigational strategies, means of locomotion (i.e. active or passive) and right -Left confusion.

“Most importantly for the purposes of the present study, navigation difficulties may be associated with a neurodevelopmental disorder that specifically undermines navigational abilities,” the authors write. This phenomenon is known as Developmental Topographical Disorientation (DTD).

Interestingly, individuals with DTD have an intact memory and neuropsychological profile, but show significant deficits in spatial cognition and daily navigation, and a disproportionate impairment in coordinative (vs. categorical) spatial coding. Thus, these individuals often remain stuck with knowledge of landmarks without developing route knowledge of the environment, indicating an inability to use allocentric representation (ie, object’s location in relation to other objects). In addition, previous research has shown that despite normal activation of prefrontal areas involved in everyday actions, individuals with DTD do not show activation in the navigation brain network.

“The aim of the present study was: to estimate the percentage of DTD among a sample of Italian adults aged 18 to 35, in order to soon define clinical intervention lines and an investigation protocol shared in the national network,” the researchers write.

Participants were recruited from Italian religions between 2016-2019. A total of 1,698 people (635 men) without neurological disorders, aged between 18 and 35 years, and with an average of 14.8 years of full-time education participated in this study. They completed a medical history questionnaire that revealed problems with childhood spatial orientation, neurological or psychiatric disorders, learning disabilities, or alcohol and drug abuse, among other problems in their medical history.

Participants also completed measures to assess familiarity and spatial cognitive style; These included subscales such as sense of direction (e.g. How is your ability to read a map?) and right-left confusion (e.g. In everyday life you confuse right and left?).

Participants were classified as DTD if they scored two standard deviations below the mean for Sense of Direction. Four additional diagnostic criteria were considered, including getting lost in the most familiar environment 1-5 times per week, problems with spatial orientation from an early age, no other cognitive difficulties interfering with daily living, no known neurological problems except migraine , absence of psychiatric disorders, use of psychotropic drugs and substance abuse.

Approximately 3% of the participants met the criteria for DTD. Gender was even more predictive of sense of direction than education. And women, more than men, reported using landmark-based orientation strategies and had difficulty with the sense of direction. And although men have better visual-spatial and navigational skills on average, they are at increased risk of DTD. Additionally, city knowledge has been negatively associated with DTD, suggesting that it may serve as a protective factor to counteract its onset.

The use of survey strategies, an advanced navigation strategy that refers to “map-like representation in an allocentric perspective,” has not been associated with the presence of DTD. In addition, individuals with high spatial abilities did not report the right-left confusion typically associated with navigational disorders.

Regarding the limitations of the study, the researchers state: “The study was conducted using a self-reported online survey. Going forward, it will be important to study DTD in presence with a series of navigation tests.”

The study ‘Where Am I?’ A snapshot of the topographical developmental confusion of young Italian adults,” authored by Laura Piccardi, Massimiliano Palmiero, Vincenza Cofini, Paola Verde, Maddalena Boccia, Liana Palermo, Cecilia Guariglia, and Raffaella Nori.

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