Today’s GPS system that tracks everything from aircraft to pets are based on cutting-edge technology that’s evolved over several decades. Yet did you know that you get through your daily activities using an internal GPS that’s just as sophisticated as the man-made ones?
In early October the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three neuroscientists for their groundbreaking work on this matter. John O’Keefe, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London, made his discovery 43 years ago. His findings were recently expanded on by May-Britt Moser and husband Edvard of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
O’Keefe’s original study involved the observation of rats in a maze. He found that certain “place” cells in their brains were activated differently depending on which section they were in at the time. In 2005 the Mosers detailed their findings on another set of neurons referred to as “grid” cells which process information based on position and relative movement.
Research indicates that the “place” cells work in congress with the “grid” cells by superimposing memory of a location with its position, creating an internal map for the brain. In addition, it seems that the “place” cells are also triggering navigational activity by suggesting the next location.
This has implications for a phenomenon so common that scientists have a name for it: the “doorway effect”. How many times have you lost your train of thought only to regain it when you retraced your steps to the point of origin? The encoding specificity principle states that memories are more retrievable when created in a specific location. The Mosers’ research seems to indicate a connection between the GPS effect and this principle.
In announcing the award, the Nobel committee applauded the “paradigm shift in how specialized cells in the brain work together to create complicated thinking abilities.” The Mosers believe that their studies can provide inroads for research on Alzheimer’s disease. Disorientation is one of the first symptoms, and it may be related to damage suffered by the place and grid system.
The next time you find yourself in the right place without knowing exactly how you got there; don’t chalk it up to dumb luck. Thank that high-functioning GPS system in your brain. But when the things that you have to track become too hard to manage with just brain power, consider getting with the experts at GPS Trackit to create a customized solution to track your assets, staff, and fleet vehicles. We’ll help you to know where all your important assets are 24/7.