Memorising London’s streets alters the structure of taxi drivers’ brainsPosted: December 24, 2011
London taxi drivers are altering the structure of their brains by memorising the capital’s complex map of streets and places of interest, new research from the Wellcome Trust has shown.
The study published early December in the journal ‘Current Biology’ supports the argument that learning in adult life can change brain structure, offering encouragement for lifelong learning and recovery from brain damage.
By taking snapshots of the brains of 79 trainee taxi drivers before and after their training, researchers Professor Maquire and Dr Katherine Woollett confirmed that those who had successfully qualified as drivers had a greater volume of grey matter – nerve cells where processing takes place – in an area known as the posterior hippocampus. The change was not found in the brains of those who failed to qualify.
Interestingly, when the memory of the drivers was tested it was found that both qualified and non-qualified trainees were better at memory tasks but qualified trainees were worse at other tasks such as recalling complex visual information. This could mean that there is a price to pay for acquiring the knowledge, researchers suggested.
The Health Investigator wonders whether the increasing use of sat navs in London cabs will mean drivers won’t have to memorise so much. Not for the first time, the incredible capability of the brain to adapt to its surroundings could be made redundant by a computer. This feels familiar – anyone being reminded of last week’s Black Mirror episode?!