Learning in youth may help brain later on, study says

Friday, May 30th, 2014. Filed under: Health & Fitness
Brain cells that learn something during childhood are likely to stick around, according to a recent study. ©Benis Arapovic /shutterstock.com

Brain cells that learn something during childhood are likely to stick around, according to a recent study.
©Benis Arapovic /shutterstock.com

(Relaxnews) – A study examining the brain cells of young rats suggests that using your brain at a young age — especially as an adolescent — may impact how the brain functions later in life.

Rutgers behavioral and systems neuroscientist Tracey Shors, who co-authored the study, published this week in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, found that early learning greatly increased brain cells’ post-puberty survival rate.

Brain cells determined to be successful at learning during the rat’s youth lasted well into adulthood while those that were not expired rapidly.

“It’s not that learning makes more cells,” says Shors. “It’s that the process of learning keeps new cells alive that are already present at the time of the learning experience.”

That the young-learner rats ultimately carried more neurons than their adult counterparts had been expected, but researchers were surprised by just how much — two to four times — they exceeded their elders.

Shore says the results indicate incredible versatility in the adolescent brain when it comes to forming new neural connections.

Although no method is feasible to study human brain cells, it is known that the production process is similar in humans and animals, meaning the study’s results make a likely comparison.

The formation of new neurons is estimated to prepare young animals to face the dangers of nature in the absence of parental protection.

For human children, Shore says her study sheds light on the importance of optimal learning, noting that humans can intentionally tailor education on an individual level to maximize brain strength.

“What it has shown me, especially as an educator, is how difficult it is to achieve optimal learning for our students. You don’t want the material to be too easy to learn and yet still have it too difficult where the student doesn’t learn and gives up,” Shore says.

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