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The Nature of Things Series
Where Am I?

Why are some of us good at finding our way, while others are not? The latest findings in spatial cognition research have multiple implications including for urban planning and design.

A printer-friendly version of this page 44 minutes
SDH Captioned>>

Directed by Bruce Mohun
Produced by Sue Ridout
Writer: Bruce Mohun
Editor: Chris Holmes
Dir. of Photography: John Collins
Composer: Daniel Séguin
Narrator: David Suzuki
Produced by Dreamfilm Productions in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

"A thoughtful analysis of how navigators from honey bees to London cabbies are able to move through natural and built environments." Stephen Hirtle, Director, Spatial Information Research Group, University of Pittsburgh
WHERE AM I? is a new documentary about the skills we use to find our way around. Whether you are an Inuit hunter, a foraging insect, or just someone out for a stroll, your brain is performing one of its most fundamental services -- it's navigating. Why are some of us good at finding our way, while others are not?

WHERE AM I? explores the strategies we use to figure out where we are - and where we are going. Are some strategies simply better than others? It also looks at the navigation skills we share with animals, and some animal skills we wish we had. Are you simply born a terrible navigator? If you aren't good at finding your way, what are the solutions? The program examines how GPS has affected wayfinding, and why some researchers think it's so bad for our brains that it may even lead to early senility.

Several experts weigh in on the topic including neuroscientists Giuseppe Iaria, Sue Becker, Hugo Spiers, and Véronique Bohbot; insect biologist, Tom Collett; psychologist Nora Newcombe, head of the Spatial Learning and Intelligence Centre at Temple University; geographer and behaviorist Dan Montello; Ken Jennings, 'Jeopardy' champion and author of "Maphead"; roboticist and biologist Michael Mangan; and psychologist Colin Ellard.

Grade Level: 7 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2014     Copyright Date: 2013
DVD ISBN: 1-94154-518-1

"Where Am I? is a wonderful example of how spatial cognition research can be presented to a wide audience without sacrificing detail. It is fantastic to see so many excellent colleagues performing their best to promote spatial cognition research. A perfect combination of overview and depth--the film is a little masterpiece that will become an integral part of my lectures."
Alexander Klipple, Associate Professor for Geographical Information Science, Director of Human Factors in GIScience Lab, Penn State University

"This documentary would have multiple applications in biological sciences, psychology, sociology, and geography curricula."
Vincent M. Livoti, Long Island University, School Library Journal

"We have all taken a longer route than was necessary, received terrible directions, or become hopelessly lost. Where Am I? provides interdisciplinary explanations for why these things happen through interviews with leading experts in psychology, spatial cognition, neuroscience, and biology. It does an excellent job of blending current scientific research and spatial theory with real-world applications to describe spatial behaviors, what brain structures underlie navigation, and why this knowledge is important for technology development. I have worked in the field of human spatial cognition for 15 years and think this is the most rigorous, informative, and entertaining film on the topic. Where Am I? is an excellent resource for anybody interested in navigation, whether they be students, researchers, hikers, orienteers, or anyone wanting to better understand one of the most important and unappreciated behaviors of daily life."
Dr. Nicholas A. Giudice, Associate Professor of Spatial Informatics, School of Computing and Information Science, University of Maine

"A thoughtful analysis of how navigators from honey bees to London cabbies are able to move through natural and built environments. The film features engaging interviews with a host of researchers. The narration is supported by remarkable locational footage, including a wonderful interview with Inuit hunters describing how they navigate across barren arctic landscapes."
Stephen Hirtle, Professor of Information Sciences, Director of Spatial Information Research Group, University of Pittsburgh

"This engaging program provides insights into the science behind the everyday activities of mental mapping and wayfinding. It encompasses a broad spectrum of research approaches along with case studies that range from the lowly ant to humans with unusual spatial abilities (both good and bad). Amidst the brain images, virtual-reality environments, lab studies and experts' observations, Where Am I? illustrates how evolution has made the human brain into a multi-purpose device with some sacrifice: Capabilities that are built directly into the neural structures of lower organisms require effortful feats of cognition by people, and not all succeed."
Roberta Klatzky, Professor of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Co-editor of Embodiment, Ego-Space, and Action

"Urban planners, public health specialists, advocates, and any person interested in making cities into more livable, healthy places can use Where Am I both to make a case for exploration and independent mobility and as a cautionary account of how navigation technologies may be undercutting the health benefits of wayfinding. The documentary is especially engaging in the way it makes a novel but essential case for 'active' travel - in this case travel that exercises the brain and develops the cognitive map...An entertaining and compelling collection of research and vignettes."
Andrew Mondschein, Assistant Professor, Urban and Environmental Planning, University of Virginia

"Where Am I is a fascinating look at how humans navigate unfamiliar places and form 'cognitive maps.' Because navigation and cognitive mapping are abilities that humans share with other species, the documentary draws on both human and non-human studies of spatial cognition...Interviews with biologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, and even a roboticist, along with engaging portrayals of the wide variety of ways of investigating spatial cognition, provide a valuable and entertaining overview of this emerging area of science."
Jack M Loomis, Professor Emeritus of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California-Santa Barbara

"Interesting and accessible...informative video, smoothly integrating cultural and neurological perspectives...Students, the general public, and anthropologists working on the biological basis of complex behavioral abilities should find it interesting and thought-provoking. Suitable for high school classes and college courses in cultural anthropology, cognitive anthropology, and anthropology of embodiment/spatialization, as well as for general audiences."
Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database

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DVDs include public performance rights.

DVD Features
SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and scene selection.

Animal Behavior/Communication
Information Sciences
Life Science

Spatial Cognition
Urban Studies
Urban and Regional Planning

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... more Reviews

"A fascinating examination...An interesting study of how the brain is used for navigating, using both memory and imagination."
Clarence Murphy, East Stroudsburg University, Science Books and Films

"Highly Recommended...Provide[s] insights into the science associated with everyday activities of mental mapping and navigation...Where Am I is a good resource for students, researchers, hikers, orienteers, as well as those interested in navigation."
Thomas I. Nathaniel, University of South Carolina, Educational Media Reviews Online

"A fine introduction to understanding brain functions within distinctive environmental situations...intriguing and entertaining."
P. Hall, Video Librarian

"Where Am I? reveals what the latest scientific findings have to say about this intriguing topic...Is as fascinating as it is educational."
The Midwest Book Review

"Provides an engaging introduction to the subject."
Harold D. Shane, Library Journal

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