Global determinants of navigation ability

Antoine Coutrot, Ricardo Silva, Ed Manley, Will de Cothi, Saber Sami, Veronique Bohbot, Jan Wiener, Christoph Hoelscher, Ruth Dalton, Michael Hornberger, Hugo Spiers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


Countries vary in their geographical and cultural properties. Only a few studies have explored how such variations influence how humans navigate or reason about space. We predicted that these variations impact human cognition, resulting in an organized spatial distribution of cognition at a planetary-wide scale. To test this hypothesis we developed a mobile-app-based cognitive task, measuring non-verbal spatial navigation ability in more than 2.5 million people, sampling populations in every nation state. We focused on spatial navigation due to its universal requirement across cultures. Using a clustering approach, we find that navigation ability is clustered into five distinct, yet geographically related, groups of countries. Specifically, the economic wealth of a nation was predictive of the average navigation ability of its inhabitants, and gender inequality was predictive of the size of performance difference between males and females. Thus, cognitive abilities, at least for spatial navigation, are clustered according to economic wealth and gender inequalities globally, which has significant implications for cross-cultural studies and multi-centre clinical trials using cognitive testing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2861-2866
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number17
Early online date9 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2018


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