PARIS: Neuroscientists have discovered that learning to juggle causes changes in white matter, the nerve strands which help different parts of the brain communicate with each other.
University of Oxford researchers recruited 48 healthy young adults who were unable to juggle and put them in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to get a cross-section map of their brain.
Half the volunteers then underwent a six-week training period to learn how to juggle, during which they were also encouraged to practice for 30 minutes a day.
At the end, they were all able to perform at least two cycles of the classic three-ball “cascade.” They were then scanned again, as were their 24 non-juggling counterparts.
Among the juggling group, imaging showed important changes in white matter, the bundle of long nerve fibres that carry electrical signals between nerve cells and connect different areas of the brain. So-called grey matter consists of areas of nerve cells where the brain processes information.
The findings, published online on Sunday by Nature Neuroscience, are important, for they suggest the brain remains “plastic” – or mobile and adaptable – beyond childhood.