Home Geospatial Applications Miscellaneous ‘Human brain can’t map altitude’

‘Human brain can’t map altitude’

London, UK: Researchers from University College London claimed that only animal’s brains are roughly aware of how high-up they are in space. It means that in terms of altitude the human brain’s ‘map’ of space is flat. Experts believe that this research may help explain why pilots and astronauts are sometimes disorientated.

Scientists studied cells in or near a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which forms the brain’s map of space, to see whether they were activated when rats climbed upwards. The study, supported by the Wellcome Trust, looked at two types of cells known to be involved in the brain’s representation of space: grid cells, which measure distance, and place cells, which indicate location.

Scientists found that only place cells were sensitive to the animal moving upwards in altitude, and even then only weakly so.

“The implication is that our internal sense of space is actually rather flat – we are very sensitive to where we are in horizontal space but only vaguely aware of how high we are,” said Professor Kate Jeffery, lead author from UCL Psychology and Language Sciences.

“This finding is surprising and it has implications for situations in which people have to move freely in all three dimensions – divers, pilots and astronauts for example. It also raises the question – if our map of space is flat, then how do we navigate through complex environments so effectively?”

To begin to answer this question scientists looked at neurons known as grid cells, which become active periodically and at very regular distances as animals walk around, forming a grid-like structure of activity hot-spots.

Source: Indian Express