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Why do some people have such a poor sense of direction?

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A walking compass or lost at sea? It could be down to factors such as the size of areas in your brain and your personality type.

Asked by: Marina Taylor, London


Knowing which way is which depends on compass-like processes in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. A recent study found that relevant structures in these areas were larger in people with a better sense of direction (based on lab tests), suggesting a neurological basis for why some of us are more aware of direction than others.

Other research has found that women, on average, require more cues in the environment to know which way they are facing. There are also links with personality – extraverts, open-minded people and the more conscientious all tend to have a better sense of direction.

Another consistent finding is that people have good insight into their directional abilities, so whether you believe you’re a walking compass or feel like you’re forever in a spin, it’s probably true.

Why some people have a good sense of direction © Getty Images


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Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.


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