The Loh Down On Science

Cabbies

Are the English smarter than everyone else?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Becoming a London cabbie is tough. Trainees must memorize London's 25,000 streets, then pass a rigorous exam of "The Knowledge." Their navigation skills are tested without maps, GPS, or dispatchers. Qualifying usually takes four years.

Neuroscientists at London's University College wondered: Does this training alter cabbies' brains? A previous study showed that London cabbies' brains have more nerve cells or "grey matter," in the posterior hippocampus area. It controls processes like navigation.

Are these extra brain cells from learning The Knowledge?

To find out, the researchers took magnetic resonance imaging scans of 79 trainee cabbies, plus 31 control non-cabbies. Then they scanned everyone again four years later, after the trainees had either passed or failed examinations of The Knowledge.

Result? Trainees who passed had more posterior hippocampus grey matter after the training than
before.

This shows that throughout life, external stimulation can change the brain.

But can the English ever learn to drive on the right side of the road? Bloody annoying.



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