Navigation skills-another example of use it or lose it brain theory

A cat’s 200 mile trek home leaves scientists guessing

Recently the above titled article was published in The New York Times dated January 20th 2013. Holly, a domestic cat after getting lost on a family excursion was able to trek back to about a mile away from her family home, a distance of nearly 200 miles. Just how was this domestic animal able to achieve this remarkable feat of navigation ignited some healthy discussion among cat biologists. Wild animals navigate using visual, smell and magnetic cues. Domestic animals such as cats and dogs on the other hand are able to navigate successfully only in the immediate vicinity of their homes. It seems domestication and evolution resulted in loss of navigation qualities which their still wild ancestors (feral cats, big cats and wolves) possess. Take your dog and drop him off in a suburb of Washington DC and it is highly unlikely he shall show up at your apartment door in New York. This got me thinking on how the current generation of homo sapiens navigate. Take any self respecting New Yorker (no self respecting New Yorker will ask another New Yorker for directions) and ask him to find his way to Greenwich Street from say Charles Street and I bet you that only a few shall find their way in a timely fashion. Heck we even use GPS technology to navigate our way in the city we live in. Gone are the days when we navigated using the stars in the sky. We risk losing whatever remaining navigation skills we still possess thanks to the Google maps app on our smart phones. Maybe Holly the cat is a dying breed among cat explorers not just yet willing to let go of the traits of her ancestors.


Nitin K. Sethi, MD

New York-Presbyterian Hospital


525 East, 68th Street

New York, NY10065



One thought on “Navigation skills-another example of use it or lose it brain theory

  1. I often laugh at the fact that my boyfriend has multiple Garmin devices and uses them constantly. Then when we were in a long road trip, I looked in the side of the door and there were ‘real’ maps – of course not for the states we were traveling in!

    I dont mind a quick use of sat-nav, especially if it helps divert around construction, however there is something to looking at a map, planning a drive and enjoying the detour if you error. In fact when I moved from NYC to Pittsburgh, and missed a turn I frequently had taken from one highway to another, I dubbed a new definition to FREEDOM. My addition is that “Freedom is crossing the Mason-Dixon line and not giving a damn!”

    As most may know, Both NYC and Pittsburgh are NORTH of the Mason Dixon line. And if you don’t know – grab a map 😉

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