Friday, May 20, 2016

Complex learning dismantles barriers in the brain

Public Release: 15-Mar-2016
Complex learning dismantles barriers in the brain
By learning a complex task over a long period, we all have the power to break down barriers in the brain that were thought to be fixed

Biology lessons teach us that the brain is divided into separate areas, each of which processes a specific sense. But findings to be published in eLife show we can supercharge it to be more flexible.

Scientists at the Jagiellonian University in Poland taught Braille to sighted individuals and found that learning such a complex tactile task activates the visual cortex, when you'd only expect it to activate the tactile one.

"The textbooks tell us that the visual cortex processes visual tasks while the tactile cortex, called the somatosensory cortex, processes tasks related to touch," says lead author Marcin Szwed from Jagiellonian University.

"Our findings tear up that view, showing we can establish new connections if we undertake a complex enough task and are given long enough to learn it."

The findings could have implications for our power to bend different sections of the brain to our will by learning other demanding skills, such as playing a musical instrument or learning to drive. The flexibility occurs because the brain overcomes the normal division of labour and establishes new connections to boost its power.


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