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Researchers explore the possibility of mastering complex tasks with little to no conscious effort

Previous research has suggested that our avid use of the Internet, and in particular search engines, is altering the way our brains organize and retain information. But what if the transfer of knowledge flowed in the opposite direction: from machine to brain?

While the concept of downloading information directly into your noggin is still relegated to the realm of science fiction, it may surprise you to learn that a team of researchers at Boston University and Japan's ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories are exploring how to transform this futuristic possibility into a reality.

In the study (subscription required), researchers developed a decoded functional MRI neurofeedback method that induces a pre-recorded activation pattern in targeted early visual brain areas that could also produce the pattern through regular learning. They then conducted tests to determine whether repetitions of the fMRI pattern resulted in an improvement in the performance of that visual feature. The Atlantic reports:

The experiments successfully demonstrated that, through a person's visual cortex, decoded fMRI could be used to impart brain activity patterns that match a previously known target state. Interestingly, behavioral data obtained before and after the neurofeedback training showed improved performance of the relevant visual tasks especially when the subjects were unaware of the nature of what they were learning.

Although the work is in its infancy, researchers say the findings suggest that someday it may be possible to use the brain technology to learn to play the piano or reduce mental stress with minimal or no conscious effort.

Photo by Wellcome Images

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