London Black Cab drivers are renowned for being ultra-brainy: we are expected to memorize the routes of up to 25,000 different roads in the capital, along with places of interest, important buildings, miscellanea, and we are not given a license until we’ve have demonstrated we have “The Knowledge”, with 70 per cent of trainees dropping out along the way and some Knowledge “boys” taking up to five years to qualify it’s a pretty grueling course. But when we’re finished boy, can we talk politics and solve the world’s wrongs!
Scientists have discovered that cab drivers have a strong internal sense of direction that in many people is absent. The scientists found the brain area known as the hippocampus was larger than average in cabbies. This area of the brain starts firing neurons like mad as their cab driver owners ruminate on what route to take from A to B.
Researchers at the Wellcome Trust put dozens of cabbies in a brain scanner, asked them to play a computer game recreating London streets and then analyzed their brain activity.
Dr Hugo Spiers of University College London believes that the hippocampus is crucial for navigation and we use it like a satnav and that London taxi drivers have powerful innate satnavs, strengthened by years of experience. He has identified three types of cell behind the satnav effect: place cells map our location, direction cells tell us which way we are facing and grid cells how far we have travelled.
A further study in America by Deniz Erten-Lyons of Oregon University also found that an enlarged hippocampus might be the reason why people with dementia might not show signs of the condition. She believes that a larger hippocampus may protect these people from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease-related brain changes.
So you see we cabbies have an amazing brain compared to the rest of humanity, or we have Alzheimer’s and are unaware of it . . . now where DID I put my glasses!
Be lucky, Steve.