Entropy of city street networks linked to future spatial navigation ability

Two researchers at Lancaster University, Professor Ruth Conroy Dalton and Dr Demet Yesiltepe published a new research article in Nature, collaborating with researchers from national and international universities.

In this paper, they aimed to understand how the environment in which people grew up affects later cognitive abilities. The researchers used the Sea Hero Quest database, which contains the spatial navigation behaviour of 3.9 million participants from 38 countries across the world.  During the game, players were initially presented with a map indicating the start location and the location of several checkpoints to find in a set order. The researchers used the ‘wayfinding performance’ metric (WF), which captures how efficient participants were in completing the wayfinding levels. Participants’ age, gender, home country were asked as well as their level of education and the type of environment in which they grew up. The Shannon entropy of the SHQ levels and cities were calculated, and a multivariate linear regression was calculated to predict wayfinding performance on the basis of age, gender, education and environment.

The results showed that people are better at navigating in environments that are topologically similar to where they grew up: participants who grew up in less entropic cities show better performance at less entropic game levels, whereas participants who grew up in more entropic cities are better at navigating more complex game levels. In addition, researchers discovered that participants who grew up in cities generally perform better in game levels in smaller spaces than they do in game levels in larger spaces, whereas participants who grew up outside cities are better in larger game levels than in game levels in smaller spaces.

The findings of this study is reported in other academic/non-academic platforms, including the New York Times, BBCnewsround, New Scientist, Science News and Alzheimer’s Research UK.