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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?

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