For the first time ever, scientists from Boston University and ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan have managed to use functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or fMRI to decode the process of learning.Here’s the basic procedure:Find someone capable of performing a task, for example juggling. Then stick them into an fMRI machine and have them imagine juggling. As they mentally go through how they do it, the scientists decode the brain patterns into something they can use laterFind another person. Stick them in an fMRI machine and have them try and imagine juggling. Decode as before, then compare.Use neurofeedback by rewarding people for increasing the similarity in brain patterns. By mimicking the state of the professional juggler, you are learning how to juggle.
Not Here Yet, but Soon
As the research stands to date, it isn’t capable of much. Rather than working with skills like juggling, the researchers relied on images so they could tie into the vision part of the brain, the part that they have managed to partially decode.Nevertheless, they demonstrated that information could be taught using neurofeedback techniques. And it was effective even when people didn’t know they were learning.The researchers are cautiously optimistic on the ability to automatically teach information. As said Mitsudo Kawato of ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories, “In theory, hypnosis or a type of automated learning is a potential outcome. 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.”Who knows, in 10 years, we may go to the Doctor to learn rather than school.