“The Knowledge” and navigating brains

London Taxis
London taxi’s [sic] originally uploaded by walking with a ghost

From Auntie Beeb:

Scientists have uncovered evidence for an inbuilt “sat-nav” system in the brains of London taxi drivers.

They used magnetic scanners to explore the brain activity of taxi drivers as they navigated their way through a virtual simulation of London’s streets.

Different brain regions were activated as they considered route options, spotted familiar landmarks or thought about their customers.

The research was presented at this week’s BA Science Festival.

Earlier studies had shown that taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus – a region of the brain that plays an important role in navigation.

Their brains even “grow on the job” as they build up detailed information needed to find their way around London’s labyrinth of streets – information famously referred to as “The Knowledge”.



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8 replies

  1. Bit of a non-story. This has been established for quite a while – I can remember doing a mind-map when preparing for a the first year neurophysiology subject for UQ Psychology years back and having a hippo in a pink tutu stepping out of a black cab.

  2. Although the theory of mind-mapping has been around for a while, it hasn’t been that long since they’ve actually been able to associate it with objective changed on a scan.
    That there is variance between the normal population and expert navigators (how many people have tried to pass “The Knowledge” and failed?) might well be expected, but to be able to actually prove that it exists is pretty cool.

  3. I’m interested in how this relates to things like being able to navigate social situations, considering programming problems, and (my geek coming out here) gaming.

  4. DEM, I just realised that I totally misread your comment – the mind-map was yours! Sorry.
    Sure, it’s not new-new knowledge, its extending and consolidating some existing knowledge, but I still like that they’ve done such extensive study now of the actual neuro-electric activity while the cabbies are driving. That’s cool, and that’s the sort of research that often provides tangential dividends in electronics design etc.

  5. *shudder* I’ve just had a horrible vision of a futuristic london cabbie being able to drive hands-free. Doesn’t bear thinking about.

  6. DEM, I’m thinking the Johnny-Cabs from Total Recall, personally. No need to be physically present!

  7. I was thinking more of robot cabbies, DEM. Who will probably be programmed to provide “authentic” Cockney chit-chat.

  8. Synchronicity, Bene!

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