Developmental Topographical Disorientation: who does it affect and how can it be prevented?
Over the past decade, several cases of individuals with developmental topographical disorientation (DTD), a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the ability to orientate oneself, have been reported.
People who suffer from this disorder have a general intellectual level in the normal range, show no other cognitive deficits or neurological or psychiatric disorders, and usually do not present pathologies or brain alterations but only difficulties in navigational skills, ranging from deficits in topographical memory to the inability to recognise elements of the environment as landmarks. All cases have in common the inability to have a mental representation of the environment to adequately orient themselves in space.
A new study conducted by Cecilia Guariglia, Laura Piccardi and Maddalena Boccia of the Department of Psychology of Sapienza University of Rome, analysed the presence of DTD in 1,698 young Italians and found this disorder in 3 % of the sample. The study shows how the sense of orientation is closely related to knowledge of the home environment and the navigational strategies adopted, but also to gender. Although men generally use more complex navigational strategies than women, DTD is more prevalent in men, in line with what is described in the literature.
The results, a collaboration between Sapienza University, the IRCCS San Raffaele in Rome, the University of L'Aquila, the Itaf in Pratica di Mare, the IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia, the University of Catanzaro and the University of Bologna, have been published in the journal Plos One.
"We decided," says Cecilia Guariglia, study coordinator, "to include in our sample only individuals between the ages of 18 and 35, excluding people who might manifest a loss of navigational skills due to age-related cognitive decline. Data were collected between 2016 and 2019 using the Qualtrics platform, through which an anamnestic questionnaire and the Familiarity and Spatial Cognitive Style scale were administered".
The study also focuses on interventions to prevent navigation disorders. Among these, spatial orientation training from pre-school age onwards, activities to improve metacognition, and the daily practice of the Tetris video game could be helpful.
"Although there is still much to be studied," Cecilia Guariglia concludes, "we hope that in the future, we can implement protocols to prevent the development of navigation disorders and promote these skills by reducing the gender gap".
“Where am I?” A snapshot of the developmental topographical disorientation among young Italian adults - Laura Piccardi, Massimiliano Palmiero, Vincenza Cofini, Paola Verde, Maddalena Boccia, Liana Palermo, Cecilia Guariglia, Raffaella Nori - Plos One (2022) https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0271334
Department of Psychology