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Gizmorama - March 27, 2017

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A new study claims that, thanks to video games, when the world ends the post-apocalyse won't be that bad. Thanks, video games!

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- GPS navigation turns off part of the brain --*

Following GPS or satnav instructions turns off part of the brain normally used for navigation, according to a new study.

Researchers at University College London scanned the brains of 24 volunteers as they navigated a simulated version of the neighborhood of Soho in central London. Scientists focused their attention on the hippocampus, a brain region used for memory and navigation, and the prefrontal cortex, a region used for planning and decision-making.

When participants navigated Soho streets without assistance, brain scans revealed spikes in neural activity in both regions as people ventured onto new streets. The same regions were silent when participants were guided by GPS instructions.

The findings -- detailed in the journal Nature Communications -- showed greater navigational options boosted brain activity.

"Entering a junction such as Seven Dials in London, where seven streets meet, would enhance activity in the hippocampus, whereas a dead-end would drive down its activity," UCL psychologist Hugo Spiers explained in a news release. "If you are having a hard time navigating the mass of streets in a city, you are likely putting high demands on your hippocampus and prefrontal cortex."

Researchers believe the human brain imagines a variety of possible routes in real time as people navigate. The latest findings fit neatly with those of a previous study that showed the human brain is always formulating a backup plan as humans move through and interact with their surroundings.

"Our results fit with models in which the hippocampus simulates journeys on future possible paths while the prefrontal cortex helps us to plan which ones will get us to our destination," Spiers said. "When we have technology telling us which way to go, however, these parts of the brain simply don't respond to the street network. In that sense our brain has switched off its interest in the streets around us."

Scientists previously found the hippocampus regions of London taxi drivers significantly increase as they learn the organization of city streets and the location of landmarks of central London.

*-- Video game study suggests people will remain calm as the world ends --*

Many assume the world will end in chaos, a complete breakdown of the social order. The results of a new video game study suggest otherwise.

Participants in a role-playing video game study engaged in acts of cooperation and assistance as their virtual world came to an end. Analysis of the virtual actions of 80,000 participants playing ArcheAge showed acts of violence were relatively rare.

"We realize that, because this is a video game, the true consequences of the world ending are purely virtual," Ahreum Kang, postdoctoral researcher at University of Buffalo, said in a news release. "That being said, our dataset represents about as close as we can get to an actual end-of-the-world scenario."

Computer scientists surveyed 275 million virtual actions executed by ArcheAge players. The researchers organized the actions into 11 categories. Each category was classified as either prosocial or antisocial.

All of the study participants knew their actions in the game were being monitored and the virtual world would come to an end after 11 weeks. In the world's waning days, scientists did measure an uptick in antisocial, violent behavior, but the actions were isolated to a small minority of participants. The majority of players executed prosocial actions, partying or building houses.

Researchers shared the results at this week's International World Wide Web Conference.

"It's kind of like sitting next to a stranger on the airplane," Kang said. "You may keep to yourself during the flight, but as the plane reaches the runway, you strike up a conversation knowing the end is in sight."


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