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Soon, 'Matrix-style' brain tech to learn high-performance tasks


December 13, 2011 - Washington

Like in the Hollywood's "Matrix" franchise, it may be possible to use brain technology to learn to play a piano, reduce mental stress or hit a curve ball with little or no conscious effort, a new study has suggested.

Experiments conducted at Boston University (BU) and ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, recently demonstrated that through a person's visual cortex, researchers could use decoded functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to induce brain activity patterns to match a previously known target state and thereby improve performance on visual tasks.

Think of a person watching a computer screen and having his or her brain patterns modified to match those of a high-performing athlete or modified to recuperate from an accident or disease.

Though preliminary, researchers say such possibilities may exist in the future.

"Adult early visual areas are sufficiently plastic to cause visual perceptual learning," said lead author and BU neuroscientist Takeo Watanabe of the part of the brain analysed in the study.

Boston University post-doctoral fellow Kazuhisa Shibata designed and implemented a method using decoded fMRI neurofeedback to induce a particular activation pattern in targeted early visual areas that corresponded to a pattern evoked by a specific visual feature in a brain region of interest.

The researchers then tested whether repetitions of the activation pattern caused visual performance improvement on that visual feature.

The result, said researchers, is a novel learning approach sufficient to cause long-lasting improvement in tasks that require visual performance.

What's more, the approached worked even when test subjects were not aware of what they were learning.

"The most surprising thing in this study is that mere inductions of neural activation patterns corresponding to a specific visual feature led to visual performance improvement on the visual feature, without presenting the feature or subjects' awareness of what was to be learned," said Watanabe.

The study has been published in the journal Science.

ANI

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