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Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 09:41 GMT
Cabbies' brain power - your reaction
Taxi drivers' brains adapt to hold
Cab drivers' brains enlarge as they build up their navigating skills on the job, according to research by scientists.


There seems to be a definite relationship between the navigating they do as a taxi driver and the brain changes.

Dr Eleanor Maguire, UCL Institute of Neurology
Taxi drivers given brain scans by scientists at University College London had a larger hippocampus - a part of the brain associated with navigation - compared with other people.

London's black cab drivers spend an average of two years learning the vast number of street names and routes in the capital to get their licence.

Do you think taxi drivers are smarter than your average motorist? We want to hear about your experiences of cabbies' brain power. HAVE YOUR SAY Clearly this study was not done on New York Cab Drivers! London Cabbies are some of the nicest and most professional I have ever met!
Victoria Robinson, United States of America

I drive a school bus five hours a day during the regular school year and I drive a farm truck ten to twelve hours a day during the summer. My mind now works like a compass. It always is computing which route is more efficient depending on which student is on that day, or, as is the case driving a farm truck, is this route (which was laid out in advance by a supervisor) the most efficient.
Steve Hutchcraft, U.S.A.

I drove a taxi to pay for my education. I noted a marked increase in mathematical abilities, including geometry. The marked ability was in the talent to visualise complex geometric patterns, shapes, and diagrams. Later in the military, I scored very high on special tests for navigation, piloting, and cryptology.
Michael Antony, USA

The most important insight from this finding (if it is confirmed in future studies) is that spatial and navigational intelligence (yes, it IS a form of intelligence) can be developed; it is nonsense to speak of someone being "smarter" than another person. Navigation is a form of expertise; not all of us have it, but some of us could learn to do it better. It would be most interesting to compare the sailors (modern and traditional) with urban navigators; also outdoor trekkers before and after they become "expert". And by the way it's just one part of the brain, the hippocampus, that's growing; as the cabby said, makes you wonder what happens to the rest of it.
Akira Takop, Japan

Pigeons have great navigating skills, but let's face it, they just aren't that bright.
MAtthew Day, USA

From my personal experience as a cab driver it has made me learn more about navigation, city planning, people skills, business decisions and work smart techniques.
Paul Singh, USA

Enlarged hippocampus? I think I've had USA cab drivers who had no hippocampus at all.
Don Hirschberg, USA

I've been working for the past eight years as a courier in Pittsburgh, and when I first started I made hardly any money because of so much time spent studying the city map. Now, I fairly fly around the city. Granted, there are still neighbourhoods with which I am unfamiliar. But I'm a much quicker map-reader now. I would also add that some of my best thinking is done behind the wheel.
Paul Mulligan, Pittsburgh, PA, United States of America

They need to test a group of drivers before and after training to get significant results. It could be that only people with a large hippocampus survive the course.
Don Cox, UK

I was a taxi dispatcher for many years in New Orleans, and my experience leads me to question these results. Is it possible that there exists an obstinacy centre in the brain, which grows in proportion with the hippocampus? I found that the majority of drivers relied on the dispatcher's brainpower to get them around town. My hippocampus must be about to burst through my skull.
David Brown, USA

I'm not sure the study proves taxi drivers are "smarter" than average motorists. Rather, the implication is that the brain can physically change as a result of training. This effect is seen in accomplished musicians, whose brains have an area larger than the average population. This should be no surprise, since the brain does not operate with electrical signals, but instead by electrochemical changes which imply movement of ions. Repeated use of some pathways thereby results in material movement and resultant physical changes.
Ted Lester, USA



He not only knows the routes, on request he spills out historical facts and anecdotes.

Karen Ward, England
My Dad has been a London cabbie for 17 years. He qualified in 2 years, having studied the knowledge on a part time basis. He never ceases to amuse me with his funny stories. He not only knows the routes, on request he spills out historical facts and anecdotes.
Karen Ward, England

Back in olden times, 1953, I took a downstairs flat in Mayfair and shared it with others from the U.S. The first time I needed to get there from Victoria Station I panicked. I said to myself, "How am I going to tell the cabbie where my flat is?" I got into a cab and gave him the address and told him I had no idea how to get there. He said, "No problem", and drove me there straightaway. I think this story explains why.

In 1985 I took my family to England for a 30 day self guided tour around the England, Ireland and Wales. While living in England in the early 50s I had a main apartment in Shakespeare Rd. in Bedford. Although I had not been there for 31 years, I was able to drive directly to my old apartment. That was only one address to which I had been hundreds of times, but I did remember how to get there.
Our brains are truly amazing now aren't they?
Joe Miller, USA



Most cannot bear the thought that someone who drives a taxi can be smarter than them.

Timur, USA
Looks like most the people in here don't agree with Dr Eleanor Maguire's findings. It seems to me that for one reason or another, most cannot bear the thought that someone who drives a taxi can be smarter than them. Ha ha. This makes you to wonder and ask yourself, "are these people any smarter than Dr Eleanor?"
Timur, USA

When I drove a taxi in Michigan, I think my brain had a chance to recuperate from law school! It was a good, honest job, unlike lawyering.
Lynda Rowe, USA

Yes. I'm am awed by the mental prowess of the taxi drivers here in Houston.
Charles, USA (Texas)

The study doesn't even address intelligence! So, how can you ask this question? What the study talks about is response of the brain to navigation stimuli, and that has nothing to do with 'smartness'. I would suspect that whoever came up with this question needs to read their own story, and rephrase the question to something like this, "Do you think tax-cab drivers learn city navigation faster than the average driver?"
Randy Halvorsen, USA



You retain a planning system in your head a computer would have difficulty keeping up with.

Bob Stevenson, Scotland
Just after graduating in 1974 I spent a year (working holiday) in Australia and applied for a job as a part-time taxi driver in Melbourne, a city of some 2 million people then. Part of the test was familiarity with the city and to pass I spent two weeks furiously studying a map showing the main arterial routes and suburbs of Melbourne and implanting a mental picture of this in my mind. To pass I had to be able to remember the location of each of the 200+ suburbs and describe the route to any other suburb.

I found this a very interesting mental challenge and to my surprise passed the test. The examiner was also surprised when he asked me how long I had lived in Melbourne. When I replied two months he could not resist asking me more routes just for fun. My performance was faultless until he asked me to calculate the change for a $2.85 fare out of $5. I blew it, but, given my performance on the routes he gave me a second chance and I passed.

Once on the job, the mental agility needed to respond to radio calls and knowing which jobs to go for and which to refuse along with the complex network of ranks, and schedule of contract jobs around the city means that you retain a planning system in your head a computer would have difficulty keeping up with. Never underestimate a cabbie!
Bob Stevenson, Scotland

As an ex-cycle courier, I can agree with the statement that cabbies are smarter than the average motorist. They have to be, constantly looking in your A-Z is no good for self employment, if you want to make money on the roads, you NEED to know where you are going.
Sam O'Regan, Scotland



What part of the brain is responsible for their reaction to Scottish ten pond notes?

Donald, UK
I can well believe that the hippocampus of the average London cabbie is enlarged. I believe there may be a correlation between the increased navigation capabilities and the amount of deviation from the requested journey.
Is there any intention to study the part of a cab driver's brain that is in control of storing and counting change, we may well find that this area suffers at the expense of the renewed growth in the hippocampus. What part of the brain is responsible for their reaction to Scottish ten pond notes?
Donald, UK

I think that the hippocampus of a New York city cabbie must be much smaller than average. A comparison should be done between London and New York where cab drivers do not have a clue where they are going!
Andrew, US

I think that cab drivers are just like everyone else. To survive and become the best at their job, they must learn more. Knowledge is power in any profession. This same theory should be tested in a variety of careers and I would guess that the results would show that each profession uses and develops different parts of the brain. This was a very interesting piece.
Mike McCrary, USA

When a taxi driver's hippocampus grows does it decrease the part of the brain that knows how to go south of the river?
James Snodgrass, UK

My cabbie must have left his brain at home, I asked him to take me to Hayes Kent and he ended up in Hayes Middlesex!
Mark, UK

They are smarter in the same way that stray cats and dogs are "smarter" than their domesticated counterparts. Adaptation does not confer intelligence.
George Feinbaum, USA



I never noticed part of my brain growing - it makes you wonder what happened to the rest of it.

David Cohen, taxi driver
I drive taxi in Ketchikan, Alaska. Most people that are self-employed seem to have a edge over the 9 to 5 crowd.
Mike Isaac, USA

What about all these secretaries who can't type first but after a year in the job, they type without even looking at screen...does this mean their hands adapt to keyboard or else. It's natural and common sense that adaptation occurs after a while anyway. Taxi drivers are not that clever anyway....most of them can't even speak English or write.
Ajmal, Britain

I find cabbies a very helpful bunch, which other 'normal' road users are not - good for them to grow larger brains!
Matt Woolford, England

London Black Taxi Drivers have to pass the 'knowledge' before they can become a licensed black cab driver and pick up people on the streets of London. This qualification takes a minimum of three years study to complete and is more intensive than some university degrees.
JP, UK

Surely these findings would appear with any group that has to retain a lot of information, ie teachers, doctors, lawyers, computer programmers?
Wendy, UK

Taxi drivers are smarter than average, mainly due to the low average intelligence of the population.
James Smith, USA

So why is it they talk absolute rubbish then?
Lee Dumbarton, England

Over thirty years ago, in New York City, where cab drivers are purported to be another subspecies, I had an engaging encounter. I was attempting to seat a 90 year old, nearly blind gentleman, of considerable girth, into the waiting taxi, to take him to hospital for a cataract operation, when, the Taxi Driver refused to assist. After safely ensconcing my burden into the taxi, we arrived at the hospital and endeavoured to disembark. The driver held his hand out for a tip, not endeavouring, again, to assist. When I refused, he fumed and sped off. Turns out, though, that the taxi driver was smarter than me - the ignorant physicians operated on the wrong eye, thus proving that the taxi driver was merely discouraging me from putting my elderly friend in the hospital.
Jon Laan, USA

Binda Singh, a DJ for Cardiff based radio station, had a live show devoted to racism. He invited a local taxi driver along as a special guest, whose racist comments had been aired a number of times as he used to regularly call Binda's late night show. Upon meeting Binda Singh for the first time face to face, his first comment was, 'I didn't realise you were black'.
Steven Dawe, Wales


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