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Making temporary changes to brain could speed up learning, study reports
Date:4/13/2011

brain changes are unable to reverse. So this new understanding of how the brain learns may lead to better treatments for these conditions.

Researchers examined the laboratory animals' brains again after the rats had practiced their learned task for a few weeks. The brains appeared to have returned to normal, even though the animals had not forgotten how to perform the task they had learned. This means that, although large changes in the brain were helpful for initial learning, those changes did not have to be permanent, Reed wrote.

"We think that this process of expanding the brain responses during learning and then contracting them back down after learning is complete may help animals and people to be able to perform many different tasks with a high level of skill," Reed said. "So for example, this may explain why people can learn a new skill like painting or playing the piano without sacrificing their ability to tie their shoes or type on a computer."

The study by Reed and colleagues supports a theory that large-scale brain changes are not directly responsible for learning, but accelerate learning by creating an expanded pool of neurons from which the brain can select the most efficient, small "network" to accomplish the new skill.

This new view of the brain can be compared to an economy or an ecosystem, rather than a computer, Reed said. Computer networks are designed by engineers and operate using a finite set of rules and solutions to solve problems. The brain, like other natural systems, works by trial and error.

The first step of learning is to create a large set of diverse neurons that are activated by doing the new skill. The second step is to identify a small subset of neurons that can accomplish the necessary computation and return the rest of the neurons to their previous state, so they can be used to learn the next new skill.

By the end of a long period of training, skilled performance is accom
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Contact: Emily Martinez
emily.martinez@utdallas.edu
972-883-4335
University of Texas at Dallas
Source:Eurekalert

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