Want to increase your grey matter? Drive a taxi instead of a bus!

What is the difference between the brain of a taxi driver and that of a bus driver? They both drive for hours and days on end, dealing with stressful conditions like traffic, customers or other drivers. You may think that their brains should be the same, right? Surprisingly, they are not. Taxi drivers have higher grey matter volume in a brain area called the hippocampus, which is related to spatial memory.

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Our brain is a fascinating organ and plays a critical role in learning. Learning is an integral part of our existence; it is linked to our survival. We learn how to walk and what to eat, but we also learn how to play music, dance, or speak other languages.  And none of them would be possible without our brains. So, the bus and taxi drivers in our example learn to drive and navigate, but how is this possible? And do their brains learn differently?

Our brain is divided into multiple anatomical regions, each having its role. Moreover, each region has different ratios of grey matter, responsible for processing new information, and white matter, which acts as the brain’s communication network. How these regions collaborate allows us to learn throughout our whole life. And when we learn, our brain can change and reorganise; this ability is called neuroplasticity.

Returning to our taxi drivers, they learn how to navigate the streets without specific routes, leading to an increased volume of grey matter in the back of the hippocampus, an area important in navigation. Similarly, grey matter density increases in brain areas related to language processing when learning a new language. Even more surprisingly, bilingual people have larger hippocampi compared to monolinguals. Professional musicians also have increased grey matter in the motor and auditory areas responsible for perceiving motion and sound.  Furthermore, learning juggling for only three months has an incredible effect on the grey matter in the areas responsible for predicting and expecting the moving balls.

SLearning is an integral part of our life, and our brains make learning possible. Every time we learn a new skill, the area of our brain that is needed expands. So, either we learn a new language or a new instrument, our brain reacts in the same way. Even more fascinating, mastering a skill permanently changes our brains. This is why bilinguals’ brains differ from monolinguals’ brains and why our taxi drivers are different from bus drivers.

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Despina Binou


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