Complex learning dismantles barriers in the brain

Posted on March 16, 2016

Photo: flickr

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.

Over nine months, 29 volunteers were taught to read Braille while blindfolded. They achieved reading speeds of between 0 and 17 words per minute. Before and after the course, they took part in a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) experiment to test the impact of their learning on regions of the brain. This revealed that following the course, areas of the visual cortex, particularly the Visual Word Form Area, were activated and that connections with the tactile cortex were established.

Marcin Szwed, the lead author from Jagiellonian University.asserts that the findings call for a reassessment of our view of the functional organization of the human brain, which is more flexible than the brains of other primates.

"The extra flexibility that we have uncovered might be one those features that made us human, and allowed us to create a sophisticated culture, with pianos and Braille alphabet," he says.


Category(s):Academic Issues

Source material from eLife


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