Old fashioned learning is the newest thing in brain plasticity
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Brain plasticity has become a big topic in recent years.
But what can you actually do to challenge your brain and keep it growing and adapting? (and no, brain training apps don’t work)
Spatial learning causes the brain to change its structure, according to psychological research.
The study found that giving people a task involving navigating a route repeatedly was enough to change the hippocampus and the way it connects to other areas of the brain.
Dr Tim Keller, the study’s first author, said:
The hippocampus has long been known to be involved in spatial learning, but only recently has it been possible to measure changes in human brain tissues as synapses become modified during learning.
Our findings provide a better understanding of what causes the hippocampal changes and how they are related to communication across a network of areas involved in learning and representing cognitive maps of the world around us.
The navigation task resulted in changes in the left posterior dentate gyrus.
This is a part of the hippocampus central to spatial learning.
In addition, the connectivity between this region and others increased.
Professor Marcel Just, the study’s co-author, said:
The new discovery is that microscopic changes in the hippocampus are accompanied by rapid changes in the way the structure communicates with the rest of the brain.
We’re excited that these results show what re-wiring as a result of learning might refer to.
We now know, at least for this type of spatial learning, which area changes its structure and how it changes its communication with the rest of the brain.
This study answers a question raised by the famous London cab driver study.
Fifteen years ago, a study showed that London cab drivers had enlargements in the hippocampus, a brain area associated with navigation.
But there were still questions about brain plasticity.
Did navigating London’s complex system of streets change the brains of drivers?
Or did only the people with larger hippocampi succeed in becoming cab drivers?
So now we know that it was the process of learning the detailed navigation information that caused the hippocampal brain changes.
The study was published in the journal Neuroimage (Keller et al, 2015).
Image credit: remora