Practice doesn’t always make perfect (depending on your brain)

Posted on Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Robert Zatorre's new study fuels the nature versus debate.

Robert Zatorre’s new study fuels the nature versus debate.

Study fuels nature versus debate

By Anita Kar

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? New research on the brain’s capacity to learn suggests there’s more to it than the adage that “practise makes perfect.” A music-training study by scientists at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital – The Neuro, at McGill University and colleagues in Germany found evidence to distinguish the parts of the brain that account for individual talent from the parts that are activated through training.

The research involved brain imaging studies of 15 young adults with little or no musical background who were scanned before and after they underwent six weeks of musical training. Participants were required to learn simple piano pieces. Brain activity in certain areas changed after learning, indicating the effect of training. But the activity in a different set of brain structures, measured before the training session had started, predicted which test subjects would learn quickly or slowly.

“Predisposition plays an important role for auditory-motor learning that can be clearly distinguished from training-induced plasticity,” says Dr. Robert Zatorre, a cognitive neuroscientist at The Neuro who co-directs Montreal’s International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research (BRAMS) and is lead author of the study in Cerebral Cortex. “Our findings pertain to the debate about the relative influence of ‘nature or nurture,’ but also have potential practical relevance for medicine and education.”

The research could help to create custom-made interventions for students and for neurological patients based on their predisposition and needs.

Future cognitive neuroscience studies will explore the extent to which individual differences in predisposition are a result of brain plasticity due to previous experiences and to people’s genetics.

The study was conducted by Dr. Zatorre’s trainees, Sibylle Herholz and Emily Coffey at The Neuro and BRAMS, and by Christo Pantev at the Institute for Biomagnetism and Biosignalanalysis, University of Münster, Germany.

Read the study in Cerebral Cortex



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One Response to Practice doesn’t always make perfect (depending on your brain)

  1. Alison says:

    I was lucky enough to attend a presentation on this project during a past “24 Hours of Science” event; it was the most interesting lecture I’ve ever attended!

    I find it a bit odd that Sibylle Herholz and Emily Coffey were referred to as “trainees” rather than as a post doc or graduate student in this context, but more odd that it’s “Dr. Robert Zatorre” and then omitting the “Dr.” for his post doc Sibyelle Herholz. Also, are you sure that Dr. Zatorre is the lead author? His name is listed last even though the list isn’t alphabetical, and it states that the first two authors contributed equally.

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