Juggling Teaches Brain New Tricks

Learning How to Juggle Changes Brain Structure


Jan. 21, 2004 -- An old brain may not be too old to learn new tricks after all.

A new study shows learning how to juggle can actually change the structure of the brain in adults and increase areas involved in thought and processing.

Researchers say the findings challenge the notion that the structure of the adult brain does not change except for negative changes caused by aging or disease. Instead, the study suggests that learning produces not only functional but structural changes in the brain.

Juggling Boosts Brain Power

In order to see if the structure of the adult brain changes in response to demands, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to look at the brains of adults who have learned to juggle.

In the study, published in the Jan. 22 issue of Nature, researchers divided a group of young adults who had no experience in juggling into two groups. One group was given three months to learn how to juggle three balls simultaneously, and the others remained non-jugglers.

MRI scans were performed at the start of the study, after the jugglers became skilled performers and could juggle for at least 60 seconds, and three months later. During that three-month period, the jugglers did not practice or attempt to extend their skills.

Although the participants had similar brain scans at the start of the study, the second scan revealed that the jugglers experienced significant expansion in the area of the brain associated with the processing and storage of complex visual motion.

The amount of expansion also correlated with the juggler's performance. The more skilled they became, the greater growth they experienced.

The increased areas seen on brain scans among the jugglers declined by the third brain scan. The non-jugglers showed no change in brain structure during the study.

Researchers say the temporary brain structure changes occurred in motion-selective areas of the brain, and the mechanism behind these changes is unclear and merits further study.

SOURCE: Draganski, B. Nature, Jan. 22, 2004; vol 427: pp 311-312.

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