Brain flexibility predicts learning speed

June, 2011

New analytic techniques reveal that functional brain networks are more fluid than we thought.

A new perspective on learning comes from a study in which 18 volunteers had to push a series of buttons as fast as possible, developing their skill over three sessions. New analytical techniques were then used to see which regions of the brain were active at the same time. The analysis revealed that those who learned new sequences more quickly in later sessions were those whose brains had displayed more 'flexibility' in the earlier sessions — that is, different areas of the brain linked with different regions at different times.

At this stage, we don’t know how stable an individual’s flexibility is. It may be that individuals vary significantly over the course of time, and if so, this information could be of use in predicting the best time to learn.

But the main point is that the functional modules, the brain networks that are involved in specific tasks, are more fluid than we thought. This finding is in keeping, of course, with the many demonstrations of damage to one region being compensated by new involvement of another region.

Reference: 

[2212] Bassett, D. S., Wymbs N. F., Porter M. A., Mucha P. J., Carlson J. M., & Grafton S. T.
(2011).  Dynamic reconfiguration of human brain networks during learning.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108(18), 7641 - 7646.