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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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