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On the eve of the new Who Am I? galleries opening at the Science Museum, Jenny Wong, Content Developer of the gallery, explores how London cab drivers learn The Knowledge.
“Everyone recognises the black cab as a London icon, but have you ever wondered what makes London cabbies different from the rest of us?
In order to become a cabbie, you have to remember “the Knowledge” – 320 routes and all notable landmarks in the six-mile radius around Charing Cross Station. After achieving this feat of memory and surviving a gruelling face-to-exam at the Public Carriage Office, wannabe cab drivers gain their licence to start taking fares.
So what does this process do to you? Scientist Eleanor Maguire scanned London taxi drivers brains to find out. Using a technique known as MRI scanning, she investigated an area of the brain called the hippocampus which supports spatial navigation and memory. The back of this small, seahorse shaped area of the brain was bigger as a result of the learning each taxi driver had been through.
Something to think about next time you’re in the back of a black cabâ€¦”
The new Who Am I? gallery is open from 26 June 2010. Visit www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/whoami for more information