New research suggests it may be possible to learn high-performance tasks with little or no conscious effort.
Conjuring up images of the hit film The Matrix, recent research indicates that it may be possible to program your brain to perform certain feats like playing instruments, sports and intellectual challenges.
“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.” (National Science Foundation)
Imagine being “downloaded” with a certain skill set just by watching a high-performing athlete or musician execute these skills on a computer screen. Possibilities like this may exist in the future as the singularity draws near. Researchers believe that adult early visual areas are capable of stimulating visual perceptual learning.
“Some previous research confirmed a correlation between improving visual performance and changes in early visual areas, while other researchers found correlations in higher visual and decision areas,” said [Takeo] Watanabe, director of BU’s Visual Science Laboratory. “However, none of these studies directly addressed the question of whether early visual areas are sufficiently plastic to cause visual perceptual learning.” Until now. (National Science Foundation)
BU’s Watanabe and post-doctoral fellow Kazuhisa Shibata, as well as Mitsuo Kawato, director of ATR Lab, and Yuka Sasaki, an assistant in neuroscience at Massachusetts General Hospital, have been involved in testing a method of using decoded fMRI neurofeedback on targeted visual areas to improve visual performance of specific visual features in the brain. This research has led them to deduct that the approach may be capable of inducing long-lasting improvement in tasks that necessitate visual performance, even without the subject’s awareness of what he or she is 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. (National Science Foundation)
The decoded neurofeedback method may eventually present doctors, therapists and clinicians with a new approach to automated learning, which may be useful with rehabilitation of motor skills, as well as with memory loss.
“In theory, hypnosis or a type of automated learning is a potential outcome,” said Kawato. “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. At the same time, we have to be careful so that this method is not used in an unethical way.” (National Science Foundation)
Below is a short video that offers the researchers’ explanation of the decoded neurofeedback method.
Sources: National Science Foundation
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