Background: Maguire et al. were attempting to demonstrate the plasticity of the brain. Plasticity (or neuro-plasticity) refers to changes that occur in the organization of the brain as a result of experience. The researchers studied the hippocampus of London taxi drivers because they were interested to see if the hippocampus would change because of the taxi drivers’ high dependence on navigational skills. The hippocampus is a brain structure and humans and other mammals have two hippocampi, a left and right one. The hippocampus is located in the medial temporal lobe and belongs to the limbic system. The limbic system is the set of brain structures that forms the inner border of the cortex. There is evidence to suggest that the hippocampus plays major roles in short term memory and spatial navigation. Maguire et al. set out to discover whether morphological (changes in form and shape) changes could be detected in the healthy human brain associated with extensive experience of spatial navigation. Their prediction was that the hippocampus would be the most likely brain region to show changes. To test this prediction the researchers decided to study London taxi drivers because they rely heavily on spatial navigation skills in their working lives. London taxi drivers have to undertake extensive training known as “The Knowledge” and during this time they have to acquire a vast spatial memory of the roads of central London.
Aim: The aim of the study was to investigate whether changes could be detected in the brains of London taxi drivers and to further investigate the functions of the hippocampus in spatial memory.