In a lengthy study, Eleanor Maguire and Katherine Woollett from the neuroimaging center at University College London followed a group of 79 trainee taxi drivers and 31 controls (people who weren’t in training). Over time, they took snapshots of their brain structure using MRI and studied their performance on memory tasks.
The trainee taxi drivers had to memorize a map of London with all 25,000 streets and thousands of landmarks to pass; one of the toughest qualification tests in the world. As a result, only 39 of the trainee taxi drivers passed the test.
The researchers famously saw a greater volume of cells in the successful drivers’ hippocampus. This is the area of the brain associated with spatial memory. Over time, it also showed that the longer the driver’s experience, the larger the hippocampus. And, on the flip side, as time passed after a driver retired, the hippocampus shrunk to normal size.
This hippocampus study famously pushed us to consider the hypothesis that our brains develop with exercise and are not “fixed” as was previously assumed.
So, all this leads us to a big question we’ll tackle next week. Did the taxi drivers who passed have some innate talent or genetic predisposition that enabled them to pass the test?
The human brain remains ‘plastic‘ even in adult life, allowing it to adapt when we learn new tasks. – Eleanor Maguire
(The 200 words project involves sharing a story from a book/blog/article I’ve read within 200 words)