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Taxi Driver Brains

December 19, 2011

The brains of would-be London taxi drivers get bigger during their multi-year training for the job.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Do cabbies have bigger brains? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

To become a licensed taxi driver in London, you have to memorize a map of over 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks. Not surprisingly, half of those who begin the training ultimately fail to qualify. But a new study, led by University College London neuroscientists Katherine Woollett and Eleanor Maguire, suggests that the brains of those who do pass the exams susccessfully actually grow in size during the training. Maguire explains.

ELEANOR MAGUIRE (University College London):

The changes in the brain were only in those who qualified, and very specifically in this structure called the hippocampus.

HIRSHON:

In contrast, the hippocampus of those who failed didn’t grow at all during the intensive, multi-year training. Maguire says this adds to growing evidence that the human brain can remain flexible even in adulthood, which could have implications for the rehabilitation of people who have suffered brain injuries. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.