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Navigation in psychology refers to the cognitive processes involved in determining and following a route from one place to another. It encompasses spatial awareness, memory, problem-solving, and decision-making skills that allow individuals to orient themselves and move through different environments effectively.


Navigation in the psychological context involves several cognitive functions, including spatial cognition, memory, and executive functions. It is the mental ability to understand, remember, and manage spatial information about the environment. This includes knowing where you are, where you need to go, and how to get there.

Spatial cognition, a core component of navigation, involves processing information about locations and the relationships between objects. This can be both egocentric (relative to the self) and allocentric (relative to other objects or the environment). Memory plays a critical role, particularly episodic memory for recalling specific routes and landmarks, and working memory for holding and manipulating spatial information in real-time.

Navigation skills are essential for everyday activities, from finding one's way in a new city to navigating a complex building. These skills can be influenced by various factors, including age, experience, and neurological health. For instance, declines in navigational abilities are often observed in individuals with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

Research on navigation has led to insights into how the brain processes spatial information. The hippocampus, a brain region associated with memory, is particularly important for navigation, housing specialized cells like place cells, grid cells, and head direction cells that help encode spatial information.

Application Areas

Navigation is relevant in several areas within psychology:

  1. Cognitive Psychology: Studying how people understand and remember spatial information.
  2. Neuropsychology: Investigating the brain regions involved in navigation and how they are affected by injury or disease.
  3. Developmental Psychology: Exploring how navigational skills develop in children.
  4. Clinical Psychology: Assessing and treating navigational deficits in conditions like Alzheimer's disease.
  5. Environmental Psychology: Examining how the design of spaces influences navigational efficiency and comfort.

Well-Known Examples

  1. London Taxi Drivers: Studies have shown that London taxi drivers, who undergo extensive training known as "The Knowledge," have larger hippocampi due to their advanced navigational skills.
  2. Virtual Reality Navigation: Research using virtual reality environments to study how people navigate and how certain brain regions are activated during the process.
  3. Maze Learning: Classic psychological experiments, such as those involving rats navigating mazes, have provided foundational insights into spatial learning and memory.
  4. GPS Use: Investigating the effects of GPS technology on natural navigational skills and spatial memory.

Treatment and Risks

Navigational difficulties can arise from various conditions, such as traumatic brain injury, stroke, or neurodegenerative diseases. Treatment often involves cognitive rehabilitation to improve spatial awareness and memory. Strategies might include:

  1. Cognitive Training: Exercises designed to enhance spatial memory and problem-solving skills.
  2. Environmental Modifications: Adjusting physical spaces to make navigation easier for individuals with impairments.
  3. Assistive Technology: Using devices and apps that provide navigational support.

Potential risks associated with navigational deficits include getting lost, reduced independence, and increased anxiety or stress in unfamiliar environments. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial in managing these challenges.

Similar Terms

  1. Spatial Cognition: The ability to process and understand spatial relationships and properties.
  2. Wayfinding: The process of planning and following a route through an environment.
  3. Orientation: The ability to determine one's position relative to the surrounding environment.
  4. Spatial Memory: Memory for the locations and spatial relations of objects and environments.
  5. Cognitive Mapping: Creating mental representations of physical spaces.



Navigation in psychology involves the cognitive processes that enable individuals to move through and understand spatial environments. It relies on spatial cognition, memory, and problem-solving skills, with significant implications for daily functioning and independence. Research on navigation has deepened our understanding of brain functions and highlighted the importance of the hippocampus in spatial memory and orientation.