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.
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.
The participants for this study were 16 healthy, right-handed male licensed London taxi drivers. The taxi drivers were compared with the scans of 50 healthy right-handed males who did not drive taxis
All of the participants had been licensed London taxi drivers for more than one and a half years
The average time spent training to be a taxi driver before passing the licensing tests fully (i.e., time on “The Knowledge”) was 2 years
All of the taxi drivers were described as having healthy general medical, neurological, and psychiatric profiles.
The scans of the 50 control participants were selected from the structural MRI scan database at the same unit where the taxi drivers were scanned. Participants below 32 and above 62 years of age were excluded as were…