Innate direction/compass sense in humans

Since childhood, I’ve had excellent direction sense. I’ve never been lost, in the sense that though I may not know where I’m going, I always know where I am and how to get back to where I was. I am also able to point out magnetic north to within a few degrees, even when in an new location and without help from the sun/moon/stars/etc. I used to be able to do this all the time when I was a child, but now I find that I question my intuition too much and start second guessing myself by looking at the position of the sun or thinking about the roads I took to arrive at my location. Such analysis almost always leads to a less accurate result than when I just go on intuition alone. I close my eyes and it’s almost like one direction just “feels” right to me, in a very subtle way.

Is there any evidence of an innate direction sense in humans, especially with regard to magnetic direction sense?

I have the same instinct-- I can more or less tell where north is since I was a kid, just by ‘feel’, but I suspect it’s subconsciously running with subtle hints like a sense of where the sun is (even behind clouds-- I grew up in a very rainy place) or something like that, rather than something groovy and woo-woo like “a lot of iron in your blood”.

People have suggested the same to me, but as a kid I could do it in stores and as a teenager/adult I’ve been able to do it when arriving after dark in a new location, having slept for the car ride there.

Edit: I just found this link.

Very interesting link.
I have no ability to find direction, However my oldest Daughter is very accurate. She has hunted with me many times and I always was amazed by how consistent she was at telling the direction. She would close her eyes and picture herself standing in front of our house and then tell her direction that way. I was unable to do the same. In fact some times in the dark of night at the lake cabin I will try and figure out what direction I am lying and it is puzzling because I already know but it doesn’t feel right.

This Daughter is much more sensitive in many other ways too. She feels presence of things that I don’t understand, and she has a much deeper ability to communicate with God. She understands bible passages much better than I do and I have her explain many verses that trouble me.

I have something of a direction sense in my hometown of Cleveland, which manifests as a sense of which direction the lake lies in. Unsurprisingly, I also find that it works in Chicago, too, but confusingly rotated 90 degrees (that is, still pointing towards the lake), and it also works north of the Great Lakes, in Canada.

More surprisingly, the same sense also seems to work correctly here in Bozeman, with no lakes anywhere nearby, but plenty of mountains. And there are various places where it “works”, in that I get a consistent sense, but it’s wrong, and also places where I don’t get any “reading” at all, such as most of Philadelphia. Someone once speculated that I’m basing my sense of “north” on the slope of the land (that is, I’m subconsciously associating “north” with the downhill direction), which seems consistent both with the places it works and where it’s incorrect.

Which illustrates part of the problem of studying things like this. Certainly, some humans have a direction sense, but there are so many subtle cues, or a combination of them, that could be leading to that sense, that it’s almost impossible to control for all of them. To make matters worse, it’s probably different cues for different people: Someone born and raised in very flat terrain probably wouldn’t use slope as a cue, and if they had a direction sense, it’d have to be based on something else.

Sometimes I can just tell where north is. I think a lot of it is sun position and general sense of my surroundings. I can usually find my way back somewhere once I’ve been there. Most of it is simply paying attention and a good memory. (For example, I was able to drive around the Portland, OR area without a map when on a vacation with my wife four years after moving away at the pre-license age of 15.)
I have not done any scientific tests of my internal compass.

“Magnetic bacteria,” my hiney. My spectacular sense of direction is due to my high midiclorian count. :stuck_out_tongue:

I have an excellent sense of direction, but I have no idea where north is. I know where I am and how we got here.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, once said “How do you always know where we left the car?” Does he not ever plan on going back to it?

I have lived in the same address for yrs, but the nieghbourhood I live in is a series of interconnected cressents. I can get badly lost in a few blocks.

One morning I was garagesale-ing with a friend, and we got lost. The as the crow flies distance from the house was less than a mile, but a twisting maze of cresents made it impossible too even begin to figure out which way to go.

My friend (who knows me too well) simply asked "Where’s Venus? (I pointed to the s.e, below the horizon. Where’s Jupiter? I pointed to the S.w, about 30 degrees above the horizon. I was then asked “Where’s Mars”… Again I pointed to the SW, above the horizon…

He then asked “Where’s home?” and I pointed in the direction we needed to navigate to.

My friend laughed and said… “You don’t get lost, you just lose your sense of scale!”


I grew up in the Southern Hemisphere. When I lived in the UK for a while my instinctive sense of North/South was 180 degrees out until I’d lived there for a couple of years. Which suggests to me there is nothing mysterious at work: I just subconsciously work off the sun.

I am glad to see this thread. It is somehow reassuring that others have this “sense of direction”.

I do not have a good sense of where North or other compass points are. But I always have a sense of what direction I need to follow to get where I want to end up.

I have this sense of “It’s over that way” (points). Driving or walking in a city I can steer by my sense of “over there” even if I have to take indirect roads to get there - I somehow know which roads and turns to take to get “over there”.

Mind, one way streets can mess up driving. And I am not 100% perfect but what I feel must be far above the norm.

This is stronger in locations I’m familiar with, but works in new places. It is stronger if I have seen at least a general map oif the area - which implies there is some sort of retained map knowledge at work.

My daughter seems to have this sense also, to a lesser extent. She was riding with some friends who were getting lost and she developed this ‘feeling’ of 'we need to be over there".

Afterwards she came to me and with some amazement said “Now I know what you mean!”

You have never been lost until you have been lost at 3000 MPH.

You have never been lost until you have 15 minutes of fuel left, are above the overcast and no instrument flight gages in the airplane. You have never been lost until you are unknowingly snagged by monofilament fishing line in murky water at night and your dive buddy did not notice you could not keep up…

I think more people need a better sense of direction. Makes for a safer world.

ut … I have never met a person I could not induce into vertigo. I have never met or heard of anyone who had an inate sense of direction while influenced by full on vertigo.

Just sayin… *Never say never… *


But you must acknowledge that there does seem to be incredible differences in an individual’s ability to sense direction. I marvel that anyone can tell direction – even with the clues of the sunrise.

Yes, I know that the sun rises in the east. But exactly where in the east changes so much that I remain fairly clueless. I don’t know how much, if any, my lack of complete three demensional vision affects my perception of direction. That may sound silly, but if I’ve never had it, how am I to know?

Driving for me is like being on a straight road in a bowl that is ever shifting. Having the map turned in the direction I’m going is helpful, but not necessary. With my mother it is necessary. So I come by this naturally.

Even a compass is only somewhat helpful. I have to really relate to an area visually in a strong sense before a compass does me any good. (It was helpful in Paris, for example.)

I don’t know why it isn’t considered a sixth sense.

Lack of evidence, I suspect. Everything you talk about is compatible with lacking an ability to process the information you receive in a particular way in order to reach a certain conclusion. Everything others who have a good sense of direction talk about is compatible with having such an ability.

Are there any reputable studies done on this, anyone?

Me too.

Just a nitpick. Pointing out magnetic north to within a few degrees is hard enough with a compass. Your finger certainly isn’t a fine enough instrument for this kind of accuracy.

As far as I know, it’s not a major nervous system function. But hey, maybe this magnetic bacteria stuff is real. All I know is I’ve actually got a terrible sense of direction, so in this thread o’ anecdotes, I’m a data point on the other side.

I’m another one with the “over there” sense, but I think much of it is just map retention. And I can’t navigate if the map isn’t north-side-up. Some computer games have minimaps that reorient so side-up is always “forward:” I actually have to think in order to read those maps, rather than doing it at a glance. I can read text upside-down and sideways, but in order to find things in a map I need to be at its feet, and its feet need to be the south. I’m sure this is because that’s how I was taught to read them, Dad had no idea how to use a compass beyond “north’s thataway.”

Made seeing south-is-up maps from the XVIII century kind of an interesting experience. They were in a museum, my brother and me kept going “hey, another upside-down one” and “this one is right-side-up.”

Fair enough. Let’s just say that I point in a direction with my finger or pick a feature on the horizon, pull out a compass, and to any reasonable observer standing next to me it appears that I’m right on. There’s no, “over in that 45ish degree area” approximation.

Some people here have described an ability to know that they need to be “over there” to get where they’re going. I feel like I have that too and it’s always active whereas the magnetic north finding requires concentration. I don’t really think about magnetic direction when I’m just trying to navigate and I don’t feel a constant sense of which way is north, just a constant sense of where I think my destination is.

I’ve never been in the southern hemisphere so I don’t know how I’d fair down there, but as a I said, I’ve been able to do this at night without the sun or moon so I don’t think I’m just basing it on that.