An interesting article came across Google News today that discussed how the human brain makes maps. According to the article, it now appears as if all of the sensory cues around us – the smell of a pizzeria, the feel of a sidewalk, the sound of a passing bus – are much more integral to how our brains map our movement through space than scientists previously believed. What the article doesn’t explain is why some people are better at this than others.
I’m a primary example.
I have very good spatial memory. I can travel somewhere once or twice, and I’ll remember the routing and layout forever. I remember the layouts of friends childhood houses; I remember how to get places; I can navigate in areas I’ve never traveled because I have the map in my head. I don’t need a GPS if I can look at a map ahead of time — I can usually figure out what I need to get around (except right around the airport in Orange County — that’s a maze of twisty passages, all alike). On the other hand, I’m horrible with names. I’ll remember that I’ve seen a face, but I often forget the name that goes with that face unless I work regularly with that person.
By the way, my skill at remembering layouts extends to remembering what is in a room. I was at the Colony Theatre over the weekend, and pointing out the various furniture pieces they had moved since the last time I had been there. The artistic director noted they were from various shows, but I didn’t associate the pieces with the show — I just recognized they had moved.
Now I know people that are the other way around. A former colleague of mine was so directionally challenged he could get lost going down a hallway. But he is brilliant and has great recall of all sorts of other facts. There are people I know that are great on remembering people, but horrible on maps.
I’ve developed the theory that everyone has one thing they are exceptional at remembering. Mine is spatial layouts. What do you remember best?