Direction is, of course, a broad topic, involving many senses.
Humans, e.g., do not have the type of magnetic sensing which
birds possess and utilize in migrating. Termed 'magnetoreception',
this sense allows birds to detect the direction of the Earth?s
magnetic field. A recent (May, 2004) study by researchers at
the University of California at Irvine:
"...suggests that the most likely mechanism for magnetic
orientation in these birds involves tiny changes to
magnetically sensitive chemical reactions."
In humans, our sense of direction with regard to the
immediate environment is obviously dependent, to a large
extent, on vision and hearing.
A blind person will come to develop and depend on their
hearing in order to navigate effectively. There have
even been documentaries on TV of one blind man who
developed this sense to such acuity that he could ride
a bicycle through a familiar neighborhood.
There's an interesting article on the ChinaStrategies
website titled, 'Zen and the art of self defense for the
blind', which outlines exercises for the development of
greater auditory acuity, which includes a quote by
Eugene Marais, from his work, 'The Soul of the Ape':
"A hypnotised person could hear a constant hissing sound
at 230 yards, although non-hypnotized people typically
could not detect the sound until they were within 30
yards of the source."
More on the page:
For most of us, vision plays a dominant role in our sense
of orientation, both in regards to immediate input and in
our sense of memory of where things are.
An article on Wikipedia discusses the role of the hippocampus
and some unique cells called 'place' cells, which are neurons
in the hippocampus which have spatial firing fields:
"Some cells fire when the animal finds itself in a particular
location, regardless of direction of travel, while most are
at least partially sensitive to head direction and direction
of travel. In rats some cells, termed splitter cells, may
alter their firing depending on the animal's recent past
(retrospective) or expected future (prospective). Different
cells fire at different locations, so that by looking at the
firing of the cells alone, it becomes possible to tell where
the animal is. Place cells have now been seen in humans
involved in finding their way around in a virtual reality town."
What better way to guage the areas of the brain involved in
direction and navigation than to study the brains of taxi drivers.
"One study showed that part of the hippocampus is larger in taxi
drivers than in the general public, and that more experienced
drivers have bigger hippocampi."
In a more formal dissertation on the subject, Larry Normansell,
Professor of Neuroscience at Muskingum College in Ohio, in his
work, 'Liberal Education: An Exercise Program for the Brain',
located on the college's website, says:
"Geometry, our sense of direction, our ability to form mental
images or to see complex spatial patterns, and our esthetic
appreciation of music seems to be organized in right parietal
and occipital regions. Spatial, musical and bodily-kinesthetic
intelligences may be one way of thinking about the product of
brain activity in this region."
"In addition to sensory material going to the cortex for
processing, it also goes to a more primitive area of the
brain called the hippocampus. This circuitry maintains
that information in an active form, allowing the brain to
sustain it through time. Thus it functions as the site for
short-term memory. The information leaving the hippocampus
gets widely distributed to diverse but interrelated cortical
areas where the tissue and/or its activity is permanently
altered, resulting in a more long-term storage capability.
Thus specific regions of the cortex not only process,
organize and respond to sensory input forming mental
representations of the environment, but store that
information across time. In this way, all new information
is processed within the context of all the information the
individual has processed in the past."
A more simplified layout of brain function by area is on
BrainPlace.com where sense of direction is listed under
the 'Non-dominant Hemisphere (usually the right side)':
Please do not rate this answer until you are satisfied that
the answer cannot be improved upon by way of a dialog
established through the "Request for Clarification" process.
A user's guide on this topic is on skermit-ga's site, here:
Additional information may be found from an exploration of
the links resulting from the Google searches outlined below.
Searches done, via Google:
"area of the brain" direction
"area of the brain" "sense of direction"
hippocampus "taxi drivers"