How, Pre Sat-Navs, Taxi Drivers Had a Strong Memory?

Tags – Taxi Drivers and Strong Memory

The well documented relationship between taxi drivers and strong memory is fascinating. Learn how it all worked out here

Satellite navigation systems, or sat-navs, as they are most commonly known, are extremely inexpensive and available in most people’s pockets, thanks to their mobile phone.

They can get you from point A to point B with little trouble or the worry of trying to memorise streets and roads. They have helped millions of people and huge companies, like Uber and Lyft, become a thing.

Before satnavs however, most people had to memorise their journeys, look up maps and spend a lot of time getting lost.

This was especially true of London taxi drivers.

In London 1865, a test was introduced to get access to a green badge. This ‘badge’ or  license permits drivers to ply their trade in the centre of London and the surrounding boroughs. The test is world renowned and called The Knowledge.


The Knowledge

In order to pass The Knowledge, it takes people four years on average.

You probably think that is a lot, but in that time you need to memorise twenty four thousand streets and roads and fifty thousand places of interest.

Plus, the quickest routes from them all to a customer’s destination.

The test is split up into four stages and based on memory above all. With the drivers being asked how they would get from x to y including every street on the way.

With this in mind, it has become a popular area of research for academics.


The Hippocampus

The region of the brain responsible for memory and mentally mapping out places is called the Hippocampus.

It sits deep within the temporal lobe and is studied and researched constantly.

What many studies have shown, is that for London cabbies studying for The Knowledge, this area of the brain changes as they progress.

Compared to the average person, cabbies who have passed The Knowledge have a physically bigger posterior hippocampus. Showing us all that this part of the brain quite literally changes to fit the a users needs.


Effects of Long Term Driving Job

What is also interesting is that green badge cabbies who have been in the job longer have gotten even bigger posterior hippocampus than those who just passed the test.

Studying for the test requires dozens of hours dedicated a week, driving around London, staring at maps and recounting made up journeys.

This process of memorization leads to the physical alteration of their brains and becomes locked in for near life.

In fact, there are interviews of drivers from the 1960’s who still have excellent memory recall of all those places they learned half a century ago.

This is why even with Uber and Lyft taking giant chunks of the market, green badge London cabbies are still confident they’ll remain successful. They do in fact know London like the back of their palm.


To learn more, get in touch with us today.

In the meantime, check our Oxford Taxis service here.

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