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MIT Study Shows Learning Is Not Fixed

Written By Geoff Nixon . July 2, 2014

Regions of the Brain Can Change Function if Needed

This article about a 2011 MIT study appeared recently in Science Daily:

Conventional Wisdom Used To Be That The Brain Is Fixed

In a landmark 1996 study of people blinded early in life, neuroscientists showed that the visual cortex could participate in a non visual function — reading Braille.

This followed studies in the early 1990’s in animals (ferrets) by Fast ForWord founder, Dr. Michael Merzenich and others that showed that sensory brain regions can process information from a different sense if input is rewired to them surgically. For example, connecting the eyes to the auditory cortex can provoke that brain region to process images instead of sounds.

Now, a study from MIT neuroscientists shows that in individuals born blind, parts of the visual cortex that are not used to process data from the eyes are recruited to improve hearing. This means the visual cortex can dramatically change its function — from visual processing to language — and it also appears to overturn the idea that language processing can only occur in highly specialized brain regions that are genetically programmed for language tasks.

How The Study Was Conducted

To find out if visual brain regions in blind people might be involved in more complex language tasks the researchers scanned blind subjects as they read. They found that visual brain regions reacted in the same way as classic language region.

Redistribution of Brain Capacity

“As these brain functions are getting parceled out, the visual cortex isn’t getting its typical function, which is to do vision. And so it enters this competitive game of who’s going to do what. The whole developmental dynamic has changed,” she says. This suggests that the brain is tissue that can be developed as needed.   Read more about the MIT study here

Implications For Learning

The brain actively self-adjusts and reorganizes through out life, meaning that there is always potential to develop new capabilities with the right, directed “experience.” Struggling learners and readers should not lose hope.

If trained appropriately, new brain tissue and new pathways can be sparked into action to supplement inefficient or ineffective learning. Our brain training program is a world leader in converting this brain capacity into real gains in learning and reading for students of all ages.


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