Recent Study Claims Driving Makes You Dumber Over Time

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
recent study claims driving makes you dumber over time

Researchers at the University of Leicester claim that spending several hours behind the wheel every day can adversely affect the human brain — sending the IQ scores of middle-aged Brits into the gutter.

In the experiment, researchers examined the lifestyles of over than 500,000 British residents between 37 and 73 for over five years, giving them routine intelligence and memory assessments. Those who drove more than two to three hours a day typically had lower brainpower at the beginning of the study, which continued to decline at a faster rate than those who did little to no driving.

Allow me to rephrase that for those of you with an exceptionally long daily commute: U.K. smart scientists say driving a whole bunch maybe makes you stupider.

“Cognitive decline is measurable over five years because it can happen fast in middle-aged and older people. This is associated with lifestyle factors such as smoking and bad diet — and now with time spent driving,” Kishan Bakrania, a medical epidemiologist at the University of Leicester, told The Sunday Times.

“We know that regularly driving for more than two to three hours a day is bad for your heart,” he explained. “This research suggests it is bad for your brain, too, perhaps because your mind is less active in those hours.”

While that is likely true if you’re a terrible motorist who immediately checks out when behind the wheel, that’s not the fault of the drive so much as it is the fault of the driver. Operating a vehicle is a complex and involved activity that persistently requires one to solve and anticipate new problems. Responsible drivers are constantly exercising their brain.

That’s not anecdotal evidence either. A study, published in Nature earlier this year, suggested exactly that in its introduction:

“Driving is a complex everyday activity that requires multiple types of sensory processing, cost-weighted decision making, precise motor control, and other abilities. Even on an empty road, drivers must continuously operate the steering wheel and pedals in consideration of complicated vehicle dynamics. Driving is also a vigilance task, which is often undertaken for prolonged periods of time, and carries a constant risk of injury or death resulting from collisions. Despite this, driving is commonly thought to provide pleasure, at least, in certain circumstances or among car enthusiasts.”

The study posits that driving should exhibit a similar brain morphology to any other developed skill, like learning an instrument or solving a puzzle. And, after collecting structural brain images from 73 healthy young adults (36 drivers and 37 non-drivers), it concluded drivers showcased significantly more volume in the left cerebellar hemisphere — which is associated with cognitive functioning, rather than motor skills.

Giving some credence to the Leicester study, this development plateaus once someone stops improving their abilities. If you stop trying to be a better driver, there’s no obvious mental benefit.

Bakrania suggests that the stress associated with driving could cause mental fatigue, which has been linked to cognitive decline. However his study also examined time spent watching television, which negatively affected IQ progression, and time spent on the computer, which positively affected it.

Frankly, the broad nature of the study is a little disconcerting. It might simply be that sedentary activities are bad for mental health, which driving can certainly be if you’re not willing to engage with it. Our advice to concerned motorists is to put on something mentally stimulating, find something engaging to drive, and change your route whenever possible.

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4 of 44 comments
  • Stingray65 Stingray65 on Jul 26, 2017

    Brand Loyalty - Lefties generally don't like cars because cars represent freedom and the left thinks that if people have freedom they will make too many "wrong" choices. They won't eat the right things in the right amount, they might buy a Silverado instead of a Prius, they might choose a suburban McMansion instead of a small city center apartment, or worst of all vote for a Republican/Tory instead of a Democrat/Labor. Yes there are some lefties that like cars, but they are generally the ones most upset that the masses also have cars - some of which are nicer and faster than their own, which is clearly wrong because that smug Cadillac driver probably doesn't even have a Ivy League degree, works with his hands, and lives in a Red state.

    • See 1 previous
    • Hpycamper Hpycamper on Jul 26, 2017

      stingray65: Extremists on both sides expouse ideas that limit freedom. How about we start moving away from extremism?

  • Runs_on_h8raide Runs_on_h8raide on Jul 26, 2017

    The reason for this study....much like many so-called studies meant for mainstream consumption is to steer (forgive the pun) the masses toward a goal of the powers that be. In this case, disregard the actual study itself. It is the purpose of such a study one should question....the ultimate goal of putting everyone in autonomous mobility devices.

  • Analoggrotto So UAW is singling out Ford, treating them slightly better in order to motivate the entire effort. Mildly Machiavellian but this will cost them dearly in the future. The type of ill will and betrayal the Detroit-3 must be feeling right now will be the utter demise of UAW. I just hope that this tribulation is not affecting Mary Barra's total hotness.
  • Redapple2 I guessed they were ~$150,000. Maybe attainable.
  • Redapple2 want one.
  • Redapple2 Brutal business. I should have stayed in Aviation (Boeing, RTX)
  • Lou_BC I don't like the looks of this era of Ramcharger. I prefer the removal top. I would buy 1st or 2nd generation. A 1st generation 1974 with 440 would be amazing. I like the '79's stacked headlights.