A fascinating TED talk from Neil Burgess about how our brain lets us know where we are in a space by firing particular bits of our brian at different locations.
Researchers measured the brain waves of mice in a physical space, and of humans in a virtual reality space, and found that both animals' brains were sending elecrical pulses when they reached certain points. In fact, the mice's brains were creating pulses that mapped out a triangular grid of the whole space.
But when researchers added new walls in the space, or changed the size or shape of the space, the same pulses became less accurate, leading to the conclusion that the brain was having trouble adjusting to the change in the parameters of the space, perhaps causing the subject to become disoriented.
This is lovely, but so what? Well, as technology and people become more and more comfortable, we rightly challenge conventions established at the birth of time the world wide web. And now as we embrace post-PC thinking, it's going to be even more tempting to reinvent wheels and re-frame entire experiences to let our content shine through. I'm talking about navigation structures that change, whole sections of content that hide themselves away once you've moved through them, and things like sub-categories and product ranges being presented alongside un-related content & links.
But watching Neil Burgess's talk I guess I was reminded not to take things too far - we are still animals with brains that like to know where we are. And even though we're moving through two dimensional representations of interfaces, not real spaces, we still need to establish the boundaries of our environment so that we can find our way back to the content we came here for.