Living without a sense of direction

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It is not uncommon for people to say they have no sense of direction. While there are so many individuals who take this kind of statement lightly, it is a very real condition.

Unable to orient themselves properly

The sense of direction embodies the ability to find one’s way. In other words, it is about getting from point A to point B without a hitch. The journey begins with determining the initial position using landmarks in the environment. It’s really about choosing a route and following it. It is also a question of verifying that this same route is the correct one, via the mental representation of space or with the help of tools such as maps. Finally, the ability to identify the point of arrival is obviously very important.

In a study published in 2009, cognitive neuroscientist Giuseppe Iaria of the University of Calgary (Canada) referred to topographic orientation — a scientific name for the sense of orientation. People lacking this sense have a special condition: Developmental Topographical Disorientation (DTD). In his study, the researcher detailed for the first time the case of a woman who was never able to orient herself correctly in her environment.

Navigating without any mental map of the destination

Topographic orientation requires large neural networks for proper functioning, according to the expert. However, the fact is that a majority of people are unable to put a map in their head while on the move. In her book Mind in Motion (2019), Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University (USA) Barbara Tversky explains how most people do it.

She cites a combination of methods. It’s a mix of turn-by-turn directions, bird’s-eye views and general information in the form of maps. However, it should be noted that most medium-complexity navigation directions depend in part on the ability of people to understand the perspective of a map. In other words, people with developmental topographical disorientation follow a piecemeal route. Thus, the latter have no expanded spatial understanding and learn to navigate their environment without any mental map of their destination.

However, there is a solution, namely to guide the person through a series of short routes. However, it is incumbent on not to cross the course of structuring benchmarks in the form of a map. If so, the individual will inevitably fall back into his or her mistakes.