Huge breakthrough in 'direct to brain' learning

By Pat Pilcher

Scientists believe they have found the key to direct-to-brain learning. Photo / Supplied
Scientists believe they have found the key to direct-to-brain learning. Photo / Supplied


Learning complex tasks such as speaking Latin or perfecting the piano have traditionally required long winded and frustrating lessons with lots of repetition before the task is sufficiently imprinted on our brains to become an unconscious part of our daily routine. Doing the hard yards, if you will.

But in what could be a massive breakthrough, scientists may have found the means to beam knowledge directly into our brains, transforming the learning process into a near effortless and automatic activity.

Experiments conducted by scientists Boston University have shown how a process involving ' decoded functional magnetic resonance imaging' (fMRI) can reproduce brain patterns in subjects that match a those of an expert, which effectively equates to effort free, automatic learning by osmosis. Whilst researchers are bullish, they're also cautioning that the discovery is still very much at a preliminary stage.

Decoded functional magnetic resonance imaging or decoded fMRI is a type of specialised brain scan that is has traditionally been used to measure the changes in blood flow with changes in brain activity.

The breakthrough came out of studies of the brain to better understand learning processes. What scientists found was a correlation between learning performance and changes in the visual areas of the brain.

Boston University boffin Kazuhisa Shibata designed a method using decoded fMRI to induce a particular set of patterns in targeted areas of the brain that corresponded to a pattern evoked by a specific visual cues.

The researchers then tested whether repetitions of the brain patterns caused visual learning performance improvements. The result, say researchers, is long-lasting improvement of learned tasks that require visual performance.

A more understandable analogy could the scene from the action movie The Matrix where the star, Keanu Reeves learns kung fu by being plugged into a machine - except this method is considerably less invasive.

The potential impact of this breakthrough on education systems across the world and on a society where people were able to beam the equivalent of a doctorate directly into their brains can legitimately be described as mind-boggling.

Where things get really interesting is the potential mis-use of this discovery as researchers also discovered that their approach worked when test subjects were not aware that they were learning.

Could mass indoctrination or the neurological equivalent of brain-washing be foisted on an unsuspecting public to encourage specific behaviours that are politically or financially palatable?

These questions have yet to be fully explored but researchers have said that their method has only been shown to work with visual perceptual learning which may limit its use.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 21 Dec 2014 00:49:20 Processing Time: 596ms