You can easily lower your IQ by spending two to three hours driving every day, warn scientists. Researchers have found that sedentary behavior, such as sitting behind the wheel for hours at a time, can steadily reduce intelligence. The new study suggests that regularly driving for more than a few hours a day impacts brain health. It is hypothesized that the reduction is caused by the mind being less active at these times.
These conclusions were reached after analyzing the lifestyles and behaviors of more than 500,000 Britons who were between 37 and 73 years old. Of this group, around 93,000 of them drove more than two to three hours a day. Researchers measured the participant’s intelligence and memory abilities before the study, at the middle of the research, and after five years when the analysis was concluded. It was found that those who spent hours driving had a lower average intelligence than those who did not drive. These people also exhibited a faster cognitive decline than those who did little to no driving. These findings are similar to those who watch television for more than three hours a day. (Related: Leading sedentary lifestyle just as deadly as smoking, say researchers.)
Kishan Bakrania, medical epidemiologist at the University of Leicester told Independent, “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.”
Apart from physical inactivity, Bakrania says that the dumbing-down of the person can also be linked to other factors such stress and fatigue. Driving, which can incite both feelings, can further brain decline.
When ‘autopilot’ becomes harmful
Driving is such an integral part of our culture. Most of us remember the thrill (not to mention, incredible fear) that came with our first driving lesson. As we were told to place our hands at the three o’clock and nine o’clock position, fantasies of winning our first NASCAR tournament flooded our systems. The rush of emotions was linked to an increase in mental function. Driving technically requires us to use multiple parts of our brain, consolidating information from various visual and auditory sources. Medical studies have shown that driving uses four parts of the brain, namely the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, occipital and temporal lobes, and the cerebellum. To be able to drive properly, all four regions have to work together in synchronicity.
However, as with other skills, continued practice of driving lessens the number of neural connections needed to perform the task. This allows the brain to focus on other things, but also has the hidden implication that the mind is no longer stimulated.
The brain is an amazing organ, as it constantly reviews itself and evolves accordingly. Tasks or information it deems to be unnecessary, it removes. Conversely, it constantly strengthens neural connections that are used on a daily basis. With tasks such as driving, unless there is new data being added to the necessity of the performance of it, becomes “useless,” requiring little to no brain power.
This results in the phenomenon we like to call “autopilot.”
Keeping the brain at this state of no stimulation impacts intelligence and cognition. This is why medical scientists repeatedly advise the public to keep their brains healthy by engaging in several activities, including physical exercise and following the proper diet. Drivers are encouraged to build up their neurological plasticity by playing puzzles on the road (within driving safety considerations) or listening to interesting podcasts.