Hey, cab­bie, nice “gray mat­ter,”

Modern Healthcare - - NEWS -

“Knowl­edge is good,” ac­cord­ing to the motto of Faber Col­lege, the fic­tional univer­sity de­picted in the movie “An­i­mal House.” And gain­ing “the knowl­edge” can be good for your brain, ac­cord­ing to a re­port in the Bri­tish sci­ence jour­nal Cur­rent Bi­ol­ogy.

Re­searchers from Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don stud­ied the brains of 79 in­di­vid­u­als about to be­gin the rig­or­ous three to four years of train­ing re­quired to be a li­censed Lon­don cab­driver and a con­trol group of 39 adults who were not in­volved in the train­ing. Train­ing re­quires mem­o­riz­ing the lay­out, or—as cab­bies put it—ac­quir­ing “the knowl­edge,” of cen­tral Lon­don’s labyrinth of 25,000 streets and thou­sands of land­marks. Mag­netic res­o­nance im­ages were taken of the sub­jects’ brains be­fore and af­ter train­ing, and the brains of the 39 in­di­vid­u­als who passed the test were com­pared to those who didn’t pass and the con­trol group.

There were re­port­edly no dis­cern­able dif­fer­ences in the “be­fore” im­ages, but af­ter com­plet­ing the train­ing, those who passed—or, as the re­searchers put it, ex­pe­ri­enced an “ac­qui­si­tion of an in­ter­nal spa­tial rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Lon­don”—had also in­creased the “gray mat­ter” in their pos­te­rior hip­pocam­pus.

The qual­i­fied trainees, how­ever, were also found to be worse at “re­call­ing com­plex vis­ual in­for­ma­tion” than the con­trols. De­spite this, the re­searchers said this study of­fers en­cour­age­ment for adults seek­ing to learn new skills as the brain “re­mains plas­tic” through adult­hood.

Yet they cau­tioned that the study could not de­ter­mine whether those that in­creased the amount of their gray mat­ter did so be­cause of their new­found knowl­edge or be­cause they al­ready had a ge­netic pre­dis­po­si­tion to­ward hav­ing a “more adapt­able, ‘plas­tic’ brain.”

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