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No. 53: Sep-Oct 1987

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Human Direction Finding

" Summary. The fact that humans have an innate sense of direction is well established. Proof of this skill has usually been demonstrated in experiments in which subjects have been called upon to estimate the direction of the point of origin of a journey. This note extends such work by describing an experiment which showed that blindfolded humans, deprived of environmental cues, also have an ability to estimate accurately the direction of their place of residence within a town, even when driven around that town in such a way as to render them unable to identify where they are. The experiment throws into question the explanation usually offered for the existence of an innate sense of direction, namely, its value to the species, in an evolutionary sense, in facilitating a return to the starting point of exploratory journeys."

A fascinating facet of this experiment does not appear in the above Summary. All of the subjects in the study first assembled at the University of New England (in Armidale, NSW, Australia) and were there blindfolded and driven in a circuitous route 19.4 kilometers long to a spot 5.2 kilometers from the University. The sun had set and audible cues were suppressed. Very frew of the 35 subjects could guess the direction of the University, the spot from which the journey began. Thus, this experiment does not really support that which is said to be "well established" in the Summary. On the other hand, the subjects were uncannily accurate in "guessing" the directions of their homes -- a fact duly reported in the Summary. What kind of sense could be involved in such a capability?

(Walmsley, D.J., and Epps, W.R.; " Direction-Finding in Humans: Ability of Individuals to Orient towards Their Place of Residence," Perceptual and Motor Skills, 64:744, 1987.)

Reference. Human direction-finding and homing are cataloged under BHT18 in the catalog: Biological Anomalies: Humans I. For information on this book, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #53, SEP-OCT 1987. 1987-2000 William R. Corliss