Geocaching: The Best Work Out for Your Hippocampus or is it?

Haven’t you always dreamed of a bulging hippocampus? Another question at this point, might be: what’s a hippocampus?

The hippocampus is the portion of the brain believed to store maps of our surroundings.  It allows us to navigate around this crazy mixed-up world.  It’s your inner GPS.  If you’re going to the grocery store, your parents’ house or the place by that Thai restaurant your friend told you about? Yeah, your hippocampus gets you there.

A famous study into the inner wiring of London taxi drivers’ brains discovered something, well, unexpected.  The late 1990’s  research found the drivers hippocampi were much larger than normal, non-taxi-driver, hippocampi.

Taxi drivers navigating with their hippocampus.

The more the taxi drivers navigated the complex web of London streets, blind alleys and winding lanes, the larger their hippocampi grew.

The oyster-sized and colored portion of our mind also plays a role in long-term memory.  And I believe geocaching flexes your hippocampus.

Now there’s no study for what’s next (yet), but geocaching must be an amazing work out for your hippocampus.  You’re continuously navigating and building maps of your surroundings.  You’re challenging your ability to move from A to B. Finding a geocache pumps up your awareness of your location.  The concept sounds fairly simple.

But some fear we rely on our GPS devices and mapping sites far too much.

Last year a Los Angeles woman, Lauren Rosenberg, was struck by a car while crossing a highway in Utah.  In May, she filed a lawsuit against Google. According to The Washington Post, Rosenberg’s lawyer claims Google Maps provided walking directions that sent Rosenberg into harm’s way.  She ended up on a busy road with no sidewalks. She followed the directions sent to her Blackberry – which Rosenberg claims did not come with a warning about missing sidewalks.

She got hit by a car. She accumulated massive medical bills.  She sued.  There was clearly a loss of “situational awareness.”

So, which is it? Do we rely on maps and GPS devices too much? Or does the act of geocaching and navigating help grow the awareness of our surroundings?

VOTE in the Geocaching.com Poll in the sidebar to your right.

  • Lionchaser

    I think you need to balance your maps/gps with good ole common sense! One should always stop and look around before proceeding. Our world is in constant change and I've discovered that the gps and maps can be out of date sending you where there was a road but now is deactivated!

  • I've become more aware of my surroundings, but mostly because one of the first few geocaches I found resulted in me getting poison ivy. :-X Now I look carefully at EVERYTHING just out of paranoia so I don't repeat that unpleasantness again.

  • Mangatome

    Great post, congratulations!
    I believe not only pervasive games like Geocaching actually do change us, but they also could change the way we're thinking: isn't there already geocaching seminars for enterprises?

  • Davidfrancistucker

    I've become WAY more aware and clever. Just now I've created a two part puzzle that involves a series of ciphers. I'm pretty proud of it.

  • stepol

    It would be interesting to see the taxi driver study repeated in this age of GPS navigation. Geocaching gives us the opportunity to be much more aware of our surroundings as we navigate through various terrain but we can also become GPS dependent and completely ignore our situational clues. I have noticed that I have less situational awareness when I navigate the roads using the GPS than when I use a map or previous knowledge to find my way.

  • Yosemidee

    Since I started Geocaching in December of 2009, I have become more aware of my surroundings, not only when I am geocaching but because I am always thinking, “hey that would be a great place for a cache!” I will say that a few times I have wandered into borderline dangerous areas that I would not normally have gone if I wasn't geocaching…. but I am aware I am doing it! And usually because of the “risk” my senses are heightened!

  • puk21

    FOR SURE! More awareness around here, too!
    We've been caching for 4 years and I've learned so much about where we live!
    And Multi-caches!
    Like Jeremy wrote in the last Blogpost about German caching Habits: we really do have many GREAT Multis over here! (((:

    Lovely greetings
    Katharina – Team “puk21” (;

  • QuesterMark

    Geocaching has changed my awareness of my surroundings: I already noticed many details that others didn't, but geocaching refined that to bring forward an awareness of what doesn't quite FIT. You know, a man-made object in a natural setting. Even with camo colors, it stands out if your awareness is honed to see that stuff. Also my awareness of other people is sharper. Gotta keep an eye out for muggles. And, as others have already said, that constant searching for a spot that would be a good place to hide a cache.

  • Triguy

    Geocaching to me is an activity that exercises your brain as well as your body. GPS receivers does not have to replace your brain. While out geocaching I look at the scenery, topo of the area, geological formations, plants, trees, and thousands of other visual indicators that I am sure will also enhance my brain's natural GPS. What happens if I am out there and my receiver stops working for whatever reason, eg batteries, equipment breakage, etc? I must revert from tech equipment to my brain to find my way, or make rational decisions on where I am and where I have to go to. By being constantly aware of my surroundings, and memorizing them, and that means taking my eyes off the GPS(r) for just a second or two to look around, I am committing visual images to my brain which will aid me in my tasks should the need arise. It's like we grew up learning manually on how to add, subtract etc etc but nowadays kids are lost without their calculators. They have lost the ability to do manual calculations. All these tekkie devices are great tools and can be a lot of fun but never forget that your brain has a much bigger processor if you only train it properly.

  • It would be interesting to see the taxi driver study repeated in this age of GPS navigation.

  • Maybe, but I just do not see how it helps our life in any means.