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Navigating through digital folders uses the same brain structures as real world navigation

Benn, Y and Bergman, O and Glazer, L and Arent, P and Wilkinson, ID and Varley, R and Whittaker, S (2015) Navigating through digital folders uses the same brain structures as real world navigation. Scientific Reports, 5.

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Abstract

Efficient storage and retrieval of digital data is the focus of much commercial and academic attention. With personal computers, there are two main ways to retrieve files: hierarchical navigation and query-based search. In navigation, users move down their virtual folder hierarchy until they reach the folder in which the target item is stored. When searching, users first generate a query specifying some property of the target file (e.g., a word it contains), and then select the relevant file when the search engine returns a set of results. Despite advances in search technology, users prefer retrieving files using virtual folder navigation, rather than the more flexible query-based search. Using fMRI we provide an explanation for this phenomenon by demonstrating that folder navigation results in activation of the posterior limbic (including the retrosplenial cortex) and parahippocampal regions similar to that previously observed during real-world navigation in both animals and humans. In contrast, search activates the left inferior frontal gyrus, commonly observed in linguistic processing. We suggest that the preference for navigation may be due to the triggering of automatic object finding routines and lower dependence on linguistic processing. We conclude with suggestions for future computer systems design.

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