Skip to content

    Brain & Nervous System Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    New Clues on Brain’s Ability to Learn

    Study Suggests Gray Matter in the Brain May Grow More Quickly Than Thought
    By
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

    April 4, 2011 -- The adult brain may never be too old to learn new tricks.

    A new study shows as little as two hours of “child-like” learning may be enough to stimulate growth of gray matter in the brains of mature adults.

    Researchers say the findings suggest that the adult brain's ability to change -- or "plasticity" as it's known in medical terms -- occurs much faster than previously thought.

    Prior studies have shown increases in gray matter in adults after weeks or months of training, but in this study researchers induced changes in less than two hours of training in which adults learned new, nonsensical names for colors.

    “This pattern of findings demonstrates that the anatomical structure of the adult human brain can change very quickly, specifically during the acquisition of new, named categories,” write researcher Veronica Kwok of the University of Hong Kong and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Study Sessions for the Brain

    In the study, researchers used whole-brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to examine gray matter changes in the brains of 19 adults after using a training method used to stimulate rapid word learning, similar to flash cards.

    Over the course of five sessions, totaling one hour and 48 minutes over three days, the participants used listening, naming, and matching tasks to learn artificial names for two shades of the color green and two shades of the color blue.

    Brain scans taken before and after the training sessions showed the participants' gray matter increased in areas of the brain associated with color vision and perception.

    Researchers say the results not only show that adult brain plasticity is greater than previously thought, but color perception and processing may have unique effects on learning and language.

    Today on WebMD

    nerve damage
    Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
    senior woman with lost expression
    Know the early warning signs.
     
    woman in art gallery
    Tips to stay smart, sharp, and focused.
    medical marijuana plant
    What is it used for?
     
    woman embracing dog
    Quiz
    boy hits soccer ball with head
    Slideshow
     
    red and white swirl
    Article
    marijuana plant
    ARTICLE
     
    brain illustration stroke
    Slideshow
    nerve damage
    Slideshow
     
    Alzheimers Overview
    Slideshow
    Graphic of number filled head and dna double helix
    Quiz