Talent and the Human Brain

BBC ImageBBC Science —
Scientists have uncovered clues about how the brain learns from
watching the actions of others. The University College London team told
the journal Cerebral Cortex the work may help the rehabilitation of
stroke patients whose movement is impaired. The brain activity of
dancers and non-dancers was measured using an MRI scanner as they
watched dancing videos. They found the brain reacts differently when
watching a move the individual was already skilled at performing. They
said the study also suggests that athletes and dancers could continue
to mentally train while they are physically injured.  In the
study, dancers from the Royal Ballet and experts in capoeira – a
Brazilian martial arts form – were asked to watch videos of ballet and
capoeira movements being performed while their brain activity was
measured in a MRI scanner. The same videos were also shown to other
volunteers without specialist knowledge while their brains were
scanned. The researchers found greater activity in areas of the brain
collectively known as the “mirror system” when the experts viewed
movements that they had been trained to perform compared to movements
they had not. Volunteers skilled in neither discipline showed the same
pattern of brain activity whether they watched ballet or capoeira.
Previous studies have found that the mirror system contains brain cells
which fire up both when we perform an action and when we observe it.
However, the new study suggests this system is fine-tuned to each
person’s own particular range of skills. Researcher Professor Patrick
Haggard said: “A professional ballet dancer’s brain will understand a
ballet move in a way that a capoeira expert’s brain will not. Our
findings suggest that once the brain has learned a skill, it may
simulate the skill without even moving, through simple observation. An
injured dancer might be able to maintain their skill despite being
temporarily unable to move, simply by watching others dance. This
concept could be used both during sports training and in maintaining
and restoring movement ability in people who are injured.” (12/22/04)