Plug-and-play took on a whole new meaning in the movie, The Matrix, where people could learn kung-fu or how to pilot a helicopter by just having the knowledge downloaded into their brain; but a recent study reveals that this type of learning might soon be part of our reality. No blue or red pills needed.
The study, conducted by U.S. and Japanese scientists, involved training volunteers to activate brain-activity patterns related to one of three shape orientations after using fMRI scans to identify brain activity related to seeing a visual shape oriented in three different directions. The learning activity was hidden from the participants by disguising it as a simple task like trying to make a green disc appear larger on a computer screen. While the volunteers didn’t know it, the size of the green disc was associated with activating the correct brain-activity pattern.
When training was completed, the volunteers took tests that were designed for consciously identifying the orientation of visual shapes. According to Innovation News Daily, the subjects performed better with the patterns they had unconsciously learned.
While the recent study was confined to training the early visual cortex, a part of the brain that recognizes patterns and visual objects that are either moving or non-moving, the “fMRI neurofeedback method” might eventually be used for learning muscle movements for sports activities, as well as rehabilitation after a serious injury to re-teach skills that have been forgotten.
“In theory, hypnosis or a type of automated learning is a potential outcome,” said Mitsuo Kawato, director of the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan. “However, in this study, we confirmed the validity of our method only in visual perceptual learning. So we have to test if the method works in other types of learning in the future.”
Will we soon be kicking back and plugging in to learn new things or will the fMRI neurofeedback method go the way of those old learn-while-you-sleep cassette tapes?