Juggle for a Bigger Brain

JugglingIt’s no longer just a party trick. Juggling, and probably other visual skills that take time to master, increase the size of your brain.

That’s the conclusion of German researchers, which throws down the gauntlet to the mainstream view that the size of the adult brain does not change at all except when it is confronted by ageing or disease.

University of Regensburg neurologist Arne May and colleagues asked 12 people in their early 20s, most of them women, to learn a classic three-ball juggling trick over three months until they could sustain a performance for at least a minute. Another 12 were a ‘control’ group who did not juggle.

All the volunteers were given a brain scan with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at the start of the program, and a second after three months.

After this, the juggling group were told not to practice their skills at all for three months, and then a third scan was taken of all 24 volunteers.

The scans found that learning to juggle increased by about three percent the volume of “grey matter” in the mid-temporal area and left posterior intra-parietal sulcus, which are parts of the left hemisphere of the brain that process data from visual motion.

Students who had not undergone juggling training showed no such change.

After the third scan, by which time many recruits had forgotten how to juggle, the increases in grey matter had partly subsided.

That proves in the researchers’ view that the anatomical change had been only temporary.

Our results contradict the traditionally held view that the anatomical structure of the adult human brain does not alter, except for changes in morphology caused by ageing or pathological conditions,’ their study says.

Quite why the brain’s size should grow and contract in response to the demand for learning is unclear.

The change could be caused by an increase in production of neurons (brain cells) to cope with the data-processing burden, or, alternatively, to changes in the connections between the cells, the authors speculate.

Their study is published in Nature, the British weekly science journal.

Share Button

Leave a Reply

Notify of
Skip to toolbar