Thursday, April 7, 2011

Old Dogs & New Tricks

The problem with old dogs learning new tricks may not be due to brain decrepitude. This brief article outlines a study where adults formed new grey matter over the course of just a few days in response to complex conditioning.

The researchers subjected 19 adult volunteers to a study where colored cards (2 shades of green and 2 blue) were shown to them; each with nonsensical names. The participants were then asked to accept the new words as actual descriptors for the new colors and to memorize them so that they could reply with the correct color name at a later date and to match them when asked. After the conditioning was carried out (over three days with five sessions; total time less than two hours) the subjects all underwent MRI scans, where it was revealed that new grey matter had formed in the left hemisphere of their brains. . . 

. . . It appears the key lies in the name differentiation, and how the subjects perceived the colors based on the names they were given; something much deeper than say, asking subjects to simply memorize a list of names. It was a change in perception. This is backed up by the fact that the areas of the brain that grew new matter were parts of the brain known to process color and vision, but more importantly, perception.

My biggest age related issue is my fingers not being as flexible and quickly responsive as I'd like on the flute. Part of that might be that even though I've played the flute and alto flute off and on for years, I've spent a lot more time on the keyboard and guitar and banjo, all of which use the fingers in different ways and I'm having to work at not using them in those ways with the flute, as much as trying to learn the new ways.

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