Hippo-what?

by Sheena Martin

How many memories do you have?

Your first kiss, the lyrics to your favourite song, directions to your home – countless cranial archives help shape who you are and record your human story. But where is this treasure trove?

Journey inward from your ear to the middle of your brain and you’ll find a fleshy little seahorse. Like its underwater doppelganger, it’s unassuming. Its size belies its power, and without it you’d be lost. Literally.

Your ‘brain seahorse’ or hippocampus (with its name derived from the Greek words hippo for horse and kampos for sea) is responsible for memory and learning.

Back in 2014 the hippocampus was the focus of a Nobel Prize awarded to three neuroscientists ‘for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain’, or in simple terms – how the hippocampus acts as a GPS for humans.

London taxi drivers demonstrated this theory, submitting their hippocampi for scrutiny by Neuroscientist Eleanor Maguire of University College London.

The world’s blackbelts in navigation, London taxi drivers study for four years on average to memorise the city’s bewildering tangle of streets and long list of landmarks – this unparalleled mastery is known as ‘The Knowledge’. Armed with ‘The Knowledge’, they spend their days executing mental algorithms to deliver passengers from A to B with greatest economy.

For a Hippocampus, this is like pumping iron.

Using MRI scans, Maguire’s study proved that hippocampi belonging to London taxi drivers are actually plumper – beefed up from all-day brain workouts. Great news for London taxi drivers, crushing for those of us who’d get lost in a revolving door.

So, how do we all get brain gains?

This Hippocampus is a new platform designed to deliver stories that stimulate your mind muscles. Stories that invite you to ponder and expand your understanding of our world and shared human experience – the perfect calisthenics for your own brain seahorse.

If you want to flex your hippocampus, subscribe to this Hippocampus… for stories you’ll remember.

University of Newcastle

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