Job ID: 103682

Take the next left: The impact of GPS technology on the development of spatial cognition

Position: Ph.D. Student

Deadline: 2 March 2023

Employment Start Date: 25 September 2023

Contract Length: 3 years

City: Newcastle upon Tyne

Country: United Kingdom

Institution: Newcastle University

Department: School of Psychology


This proposal will examine the long-term impact of GPS navigational systems on spatial memory in adults and children. Mammals have evolved specialized neural systems that support efficient navigation and optimize species’ success in survival and reproduction. Key to this is active interaction, and exploration of environments. With experience, we build spatial knowledge, actively engaging with our surroundings, and refine learned relationships between streets, landmarks and locations. However, as technology has advanced, external GPS systems have become second nature and automated how humans navigate. We will investigate whether navigational technology has, despite providing humans with a greater capacity to explore the world, made us worse navigators.

This will be studied in children and adults using state of the art virtual reality paradigms and neuroimaging techniques. The developmental work will explore how growing up in a world of external technology impacts the development of spatial memory. A longitudinal study will test whether children with greater experience of GPS, and the use of technology will follow a different spatial memory trajectory to those that have not been exposed to the same degree. The adult work will aim to support current literature that shows habitual GPS use negatively impacts spatial memory in adults. The neural component will investigate the relationship between the maturation of the developing human brain and spatial memory. London taxi drivers, who undergo extensive training, show a correlation between greater navigational experience and hippocampal volume. If you were to compare Uber drivers that rely on navigational technology, would they show the same brain-behaviour link? Following this notion, the PhD will investigate whether adult and children’s exposure to technology mediates the relationships between brain regions known to support the prolonged development of spatial memory. This multi-component approach will provide a rich, impactful understanding of how human interaction with technology is affecting fundamental human behaviours that are key to our success as a species.

This project will be supervised by Dr. Hannah Roome, a lecturer in the School of Psychology, and affiliate of the Institute of Biosciences. This PhD proposal has three key components:

  1. The analysis of pre-existing data to establish a link between children’s sense of direction, technological experience, spatial memory and the structural maturation of the hippocampal formation. This will be in collaboration with The Center for Learning and Memory, University of Texas at Austin, and will teach statistical analyses and structural neuroimaging techniques.
  2. A longitudinal behavioral study to track the development of spatial memory in children with varying experience with technology and GPS devices, using virtual and real-world environments. This will provide experience in 1) longitudinal experimental design; 2) data collection with children, adolescents and adults; 3) data management and analysis of large datasets.
  3. A neurodevelopmental perspective analyzing the structural maturation of thehippocampus, and whether its link with spatial memory is mediated by technological experience. This will involve collecting neuroimaging data, and applying skills learned from Aim 1.

All three components share the aim of disseminating high-quality research to impactful journals.

How to Apply:

FURTHER DETAILS AND A GUIDE TO THE FORMAT REQUIRED FOR THE APPLICATION DOCUMENTS IS AVAILABLE AT . Please read the information there before submitting your application. Applications not meeting these criteria may be rejected.

Applications should be made by emailing  with:

  • a completed copy of the Application Form. A blank copy of the form can be found at:
  • a CV (including contact details of two academic referees).
  • a covering letter. This should explain your particular interest in the projects selected, and include any additional information you feel is pertinent to your application
  • copies of your degree transcripts and certificates
  • a copy of your passport (photo page).
  • your English language certificate (IELTS or TOEFL certificate, where applicable)

Informal enquiries may be made to the supervisors.

Funding Notes

PhD studentships are funded by the Newcastle Neuroscience Fund for 3 years. Funding will cover
tuition fees at the UK rate only, a Research Training and Support Grant and a stipend (£18,543 p.a., 2022/23 rate). Applications are welcomed from students in all countries, although students from outside the UK will be required to pay full international fees. International students may be eligible for additional financial support to cover some, or all, of these fees


Reference 1: Dahmani, L., & Bohbot, VD. (2020). Habitual use of GPS negatively impacts spatial memory during self-guided navigation. Scientific Reports, 10, 6310 – This article provides a background of the adult human literature and the impact of GPS technology on spatial memory
Reference 2: Coughlin, C., Ben-Asher E., Roome HE., Varga NL., Moreau MM., Schneider LL., &Preston, AR. (2022). Interpersonal Family Dynamics Relate to Hippocampal CA Subfield Structure. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 17(16), 872101. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2022.872101 – This article is useful to understand the type of developmental neuroimaging analyses that will be carried out for this PhD