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Researchers in Germany have discovered that learning to juggle can change the structure of the brain in only SEVEN days! These scientists knew that juggling could cause brain expansion after three months of training, did not know how soon these changes took place.
To investigate the time course of brain changes, the researchers studied 20 people (11 female, 9 male) who did not know how to juggle. These volunteers were taught how to perform a "three ball cascade" juggling pattern. After 28 days of practice, the new jugglers were not allowed practice. Brain images of each volunteer were made six times during the experiment:
Dr. Chudler is juggling again!
Significant expansion in the visual cortex area sensitive to motion was found after seven days (scan 2) of juggling practice. This expansion remained at this level, but did not get any larger, through the 35 days of training (scans 3 and 4). After the jugglers stopped practicing (scans 5 and 6), the size of the visual cortex returned back to baseline level (scan 1).
These data suggest that learning new skills can cause rapid changes in brain structure (neuroplasticity). After a skill is learned, the brain stops changing. The alterations in the brain may be due to an increase in the number of nerve cells, glial cells, synapses or brain blood flow.
Although "practice may make perfect," it appears that learning new things is best for changing the brain.
Copyright © 1996-2008, Eric H. Chudler, University of Washington