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, 47 (4), 1088-95

Navigational Expertise May Compromise Anterograde Associative Memory

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Navigational Expertise May Compromise Anterograde Associative Memory

Katherine Woollett et al. Neuropsychologia.

Abstract

Grey matter volume increases have been associated with expertise in a range of domains. Much less is known, however, about the broader cognitive advantages or costs associated with skills and their concomitant neuroanatomy. In this study we investigated a group of highly skilled navigators, licensed London taxi drivers. We replicated findings from previous studies by showing taxi drivers had greater grey matter volume in posterior hippocampus and less grey matter volume in anterior hippocampus compared to matched control subjects. We then employed an extensive battery of tests to investigate the neuropsychological consequences of being a skilled taxi driver. Their learning of and recognition memory for individual items was comparable with control subjects, as were working memory, retrograde memory, perceptual and executive functions. By contrast, taxi drivers were significantly more knowledgeable about London landmarks and their spatial relationships. However, they were significantly worse at forming and retaining new associations involving visual information. We consider possible reasons for this decreased performance including the reduced grey matter volume in the anterior hippocampus of taxi drivers, similarities with models of aging, and saturation of long-term potentiation which may reduce information-storage capacity.

Figures

Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Anterior hippocampal grey matter volume differences between taxi drivers and control subjects. (A) Anterior hippocampal grey matter volume was decreased in licensed London taxi drivers compared with matched control subjects. Data are shown on sagittal (upper panel) and axial (lower panel) sections from the canonical SPM5 MRI scan. (B) Anterior hippocampal grey matter volume was negatively correlated with navigation experience, with less grey matter volume the more years spent taxi driving. Data are shown on sagittal (upper panel) and axial (lower panel) sections from the canonical SPM5 MRI scan.
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
London landmark proximity judgements test. (A) An example stimulus with the target London landmark at the top. Participants had to decide which of the two lower landmarks (A or B) was closer, as the crow flies, to the target landmark. (B) Taxi drivers were significantly better than control subjects at making proximity judgements. Bars represent ±2 standard errors.
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
Verbal paired associates test. (A) The set of word pairs from the WMS-III verbal paired associates test. (B) Taxi drivers made significantly fewer correct responses during immediate recall and (C) delayed recall on this test compared with control subjects. Bars represent ±2 standard errors.
Fig. 4
Fig. 4
Object–place associations test. (A) The table top array used in the object–place associations test—see Section 2. (B) Taxi drivers required more learning trials to reach criterion than control subjects. (C) Taxi drivers recalled fewer of the object–place associations than control subjects following a delay. Bars represent ±2 standard errors.

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