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What's on England's Mind Today, Part II (London Cabbies)

It’s been widely reported that London cab drivers have “enlarged hippocampi” thanks to their years spent memorizing London’s streets (a.k.a., acquiring “the Knowledge.” But do their skills generalize? A recent study (summarized by the BPS Research Digest) comparing the navigational skills of male cab drivers and a control group found that the cab drivers “were substantially better at navigating new routes within and across the two areas, and were superior at sketching out the routes with a pencil and paper.” “Taxi drivers undergo years of training … Similarly in their job, day in day out, they are required to plan and execute routes,” write Katherine Woollett and?Eleanor Maguire. “Clearly these general attentional, learning and memory mechanisms are finely-tuned and readily called upon when they are required to learn a new town.” However, the taxi drivers fared poorly when asked to “learn unfamiliar routes … that were integrated into familiar areas of London.” Woollett and Maguire hypothesize that “their poorer performance may reflect expert inflexibility and an inability to inhibit access to existing (and now competing) memory representations.” [%comments]