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Study: Brain changes seen in cabbies who take ‘The Knowledge’

Brain changes seen in cab­bies who take ‘The Knowl­edge (BBC Health):

The struc­ture of a Lon­don taxi driver’s brain changes dur­ing the gru­el­ing process of learn­ing the quick­est way around the cap­i­tal, scans reveal. Dozens of trainee dri­vers had MRI scans before and after they acquired “The Knowl­edge”, mem­o­riz­ing hun­dreds of jour­neys and street names.

The Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Lon­don team, writ­ing in Cur­rent Biol­ogy, found brain parts linked to mem­ory grew bigger.

They said it proved the brain could adapt to new tasks, even in adulthood.”

Link to StudyAcquir­ing “the Knowl­edge” of London’s Lay­out Dri­ves Struc­tural Brain Changes (Cur­rent Biology)


  • Trainee taxi dri­vers in Lon­don spend 3–4 years learn­ing the city’s layout
  • We assessed the brain and mem­ory of trainees before and after this long training
  • Those who qual­i­fied expe­ri­enced increased gray mat­ter in pos­te­rior hippocampus
  • Suc­cess­ful qual­i­fi­ca­tion was also asso­ci­ated with changes in mem­ory profile


The last decade has seen a bur­geon­ing of reports asso­ci­at­ing brain struc­ture with spe­cific skills and traits (e.g., [1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8]). Although these cross-sectional stud­ies are infor­ma­tive, cause and effect are impos­si­ble to estab­lish with­out lon­gi­tu­di­nal inves­ti­ga­tion of the same indi­vid­u­als before and after an inter­ven­tion. Sev­eral lon­gi­tu­di­nal stud­ies have been con­ducted (e.g., [9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18]); some involved chil­dren or young adults, poten­tially con­flat­ing brain devel­op­ment with learn­ing, most were restricted to the motor domain, and all con­cerned rel­a­tively short timescales (weeks or months). Here, by con­trast, we uti­lized a unique oppor­tu­nity to study average-IQ adults oper­at­ing in the real world as they learned, over four years, the com­plex lay­out of London’s streets while train­ing to become licensed taxi dri­vers. In those who qual­i­fied, acqui­si­tion of an inter­nal spa­tial rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Lon­don was asso­ci­ated with a selec­tive increase in gray mat­ter (GM) vol­ume in their pos­te­rior hip­pocampi and con­comi­tant changes to their mem­ory pro­file. No struc­tural brain changes were observed in trainees who failed to qual­ify or con­trol par­tic­i­pants. We con­clude that spe­cific, endur­ing, struc­tural brain changes in adult humans can be induced by bio­log­i­cally rel­e­vant behav­iors engag­ing higher cog­ni­tive func­tions such as spa­tial mem­ory, with sig­nif­i­cance for the “nature ver­sus nur­ture” debate.”

To learn more, click on Brain Plas­tic­ity: How Learn­ing Changes the Brain

Source of pic: Wikipedia Commons.

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