Did you get lost this Thanksgiving weekend – going to dinner or bargain-hunting? GPS devices can help, but drivers do still get lost. Some people just accept their lack of way-finding skills.
But one Philadelphia researcher says you can learn how to become better at getting from point A to point B.
Nora Newcombe studies spatial learning at Temple University: how we learn about spaces, and about where things are in relation to one another.
She says this learning influences our ability to do math, science—and to find our way around. She says that, yes, the common belief has some basis: Boys do tend to be better at certain spatial skills than girls.
But nurture may play as big a role in that as nature, Newcombe says: “[Boys’ skill advantage] is present early. It may partly derive from interaction with the environment. We don’t know what drives what. So, for example, parents use more spatial language with boys than to girls.”
That’s no small thing. Using “spatial language”—i.e., words like “behind, above, on top”—with kids as they play helps to teach them how to navigate the world.
But, no matter how well your parents did on this front, Newcombe says you can still improve your spatial skills as an adult.
She says people too often simply accept their inability to find their way around. Instead, they should learn some simple way-finding techniques, and practice them.
For example, says Newcombe, Philadelphia residents can use the city’s rivers to orient themselves. “Where is the Delaware River? Where is the Schuylkill River? Then, as I turn, where is the Delaware River now? Where is the Schuylkill? It helps to keep in mind that sense of the larger whole.”
Another simple exercise Newcombe suggests is to work at being an attentive passenger when someone else is behind the wheel. Notice passing landmarks so you can use them later to find your own way.