Even if you’ve lived in a city for a few years you’re bound to get lost or disorientated now and again. A new study in Psychological Science reveals the easiest way to reorientate yourself and find your way is to face north and visualise the map.
Image: Ram Karthik.
When it comes to understanding environments, our brains refer back to what they know. Western maps are always orientated toward the north so our spatial memory does the same thing. When you face your body north, you visualise a map and can navigate based on memory. Even when you’re visiting a new city you should be able to recreate a map you’ve only glanced at. One of the studies authors, Dr Julia Frankenstein, suggests using the north trick to learn new cities:
Look at maps before you start your trip, keep them at hand, but navigate yourself and try to rely on your memory — it will work better than you expect! Give your brain the chance to train its spatial abilities — use them or lose them.
Of course, you need to know which direction north is for this to work. Thankfully, you can quickly find north using shadows or your watch. It’s also worth noting this is a great trick for when people ask you for directions. If you’re stopped on the street in your hometown, orient yourself north before offering up direction advice.