Brain stimulation accelerates learning

April 14, 2011

Researchers at the University of Texas, Dallas, have found in laboratory experiments that brain stimulation accelerates learning  that may eventually lead to improved treatment of learning impairments, strokes, tinnitus, and chronic pain.

The researchers used brain stimulation of rats to release neurotransmitters that caused the brain to increase its response to a small set of tones. The team found that this increased response allowed rats to learn a task using these tones more quickly than animals that had not received stimulation.

The researchers examined the laboratory animals’ brains after the rats had practiced their learned task for a few weeks. The brains appeared to have returned to normal, even though the animals had not forgotten how to perform the task they had learned. Although large changes in the brain were helpful for initial learning, those changes did not have to be permanent to be beneficial.

The researchers concluded that large-scale brain changes are not directly responsible for learning.  Rather, they accelerate learning by creating an expanded pool of neurons from which the brain can select the most efficient, small “network” to accomplish the new skill.

Ref.: Amanda Reed et al., Cortical Map Plasticity Improves Learning but Is Not Necessary for Improved Performance, Neuron, April 14, 2011