Study of the Day: Soon, You May Download New Skills to Your Brain

New research suggests it may be possible to learn complex tasks with little to no conscious effort, just like in The Matrix. Whoa, indeed.

main VLADGRIN shutterstock_81903907.jpg

PROBLEM: Unlike Neo in The Matrix or the titular superspy in the comedy series Chuck, we can't master kung fu just by beaming information to our brain. We have to put in time and effort to learn new skills.

METHODOLOGY: Researchers from Boston University and Japan's ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories designed a decoded functional MRI neurofeedback method that induces a pre-recorded activation pattern in targeted early visual brain areas that could also produce the pattern through regular learning. They then tested whether repetitions of the fMRI pattern caused an improvement in the performance of that visual feature.

RESULTS: The experiments successfully demonstrated that, through a person's visual cortex, decoded fMRI could be used to impart brain activity patterns that match a previously known target state. Interestingly, behavioral data obtained before and after the neurofeedback training showed improved performance of the relevant visual tasks especially when the subjects were unaware of the nature of what they were learning.

CONCLUSION: It may someday be possible to use brain technology to learn to play the piano, reduce mental stress, or even master kung fu with little or no conscious effort. Lead author and BU neuroscientist Takeo Watanabe says in a statement: "Adult early visual areas are sufficiently plastic to cause visual perceptual learning."

SOURCE: The full study, "Perceptual Learning Incepted by Decoded fMRI Neurofeedback Without Stimulus Presentation," is published in the journal Science.

Image: VLADGRIN/Shutterstock.

Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Health

Just In