Neuroplasticity in motor learning

When we acquire new skills, our brain changes, new neurons emerge, and new connections between neurons (old and new ones) are established. This phenomenon is called neuroplasticity. It means that our Central Nervous System changes due to learning/practice.

18 Feb 2022 Stanisław Henryk Czyż

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The brain is also neuroplastic when we learn new motor skills. It means that when we learn juggling or skateboarding or whatever motor skill is new for us, our brains gain mass due to the new neurons and connections between them. Grey matter in our brains becomes thicker. Neuroplasticity is observed in young and old human beings. Hence, whether you are young or old – learning new skills will change your brain.

Learning in different practice conditions

We can learn in different conditions. For example, we may practice only one skill variation: only shots to target from one distance to one-size target, with a one-size object. We may also practice experiencing many different skill variations, e.g., shooting at a target from different distances to different-size targets, with different-size objects. Given that the amount of practice is the same in both groups, one could ask how these types of practice affect neuroactivity? Will there be a difference in the structure of the brain? There are already behavioral studies evincing that these types of practice benefit learning differently. Now we want to see if these types of practice affect our brain differently, too.

We can measure with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) whether and how these practices changed any brain regions. Or perhaps there will be a difference in how the brain functions, e.g., which brain regions are activated first, which later, what regions will be connected one with another, etc. This can be tested with an electroencephalogram (EEG).

Neuroplasticity in motor learning under different practice conditions

These questions, hopefully, will be answered in our project. We will ask our participants to practice a simple finger task (index radial abduction) - to press a finger against a force inducer with a different force. A participant will learn a pattern of different forces (e.g., 30%, 25%, 10%, … of their maximal force). Some participants will practice only one pattern; some will practice different patterns. However, both groups will receive the same amount of practice.

We will measure structural changes in their brain before and after practice. We will search for any differences between these groups.

We do not know what the practical implications of our project are. We believe, however, that our study will add something to our knowledge of how our brains function.

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