Explaining world-wide variation in navigation ability from millions of people: Citizen science project Sea Hero Quest

Hugo J. Spiers, Antoine Coutrot, Michael Hornberger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Navigation ability varies widely across humans. Prior studies have reported that being younger and a male has an advantage for navigation ability. However, these studies have generally involved small numbers of participants from a handful of western countries. Here, we review findings from our project Sea Hero Quest, which used a video game for mobile and tablet devices to test 3.9 million people on their navigation ability, sampling across every nation-state and from 18 to 99 years of age. Results revealed that the task has good ecological validity and across all countries sufficiently sampled (N = 63), age is linked to a near-linear decline in navigation ability from the early 20s. All countries showed a male advantage, but this varied considerably and could be partly predicted by gender inequality. We found that those who reported growing up in a city were on average worse at navigating than those who grew up outside cities and that navigation performance helped identify those at greater genetic risk of Alzheimer's disease. We discuss the advantages and challenges of using a mobile app to study cognition and the future avenues for understanding individual differences in navigation ability arising from this research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-138
Number of pages19
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Issue number1
Early online date8 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


  • Aging
  • Culture
  • Dementia
  • Games
  • Gender
  • Spatial cognition
  • Wayfinding

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