“I bet my hippocampus is bigger than your hippocampus,” boasted the cheeky London cabbie.
“Show off!” I yelled as I slammed the car door and headed to sulk in my hotel room.
As much as it pained my pride to admit it, he was probably right. London taxi drivers undergo intensive training and testing before being licensed to drive the traditional London Black Cab. Simply named “The Knowledge,” learning the 320 routes along some 25,000 roads—not to mention tourist attractions, hospitals and historic landmarks—within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross Station, takes approximately three years to complete.
Where does all this information go? In a study conducted in 2000, researchers at University College London found cabbies’ grey matter actually enlarges during this time. Brain scans show London taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus—an area associated with memory—than regular folk.
“There seems to be a definite relationship between the navigating they do as a taxi driver and the brain changes,” explained the lead researcher, Dr. Eleanor Maguire, in a BBC News article. “The hippocampus has changed its structure to accommodate their huge amount of navigating experience.”
As a traveler, consider yourself lucky. Not only will you enjoy one of the most comfortable and stylish taxi rides in the back of a London Black Cab, but chances are the driver has physically altered his brain composition to better chauffer you to your destination.
So sit back, relax and put your pride aside. When it comes to “The Knowledge,” the size of the hippocampus really does matter.
Read more about IQ’s travels through London, as he explores the Heart of Soho.