The new research helps to reshape our understanding of the brain and how it learns and remembers a new skill. Our past understanding of the brain would suggest that new knowledge requires new brain cells, and as a result our brain would grow in size upon each new skill we learn. We know this is not true, as the human brain stops growing in size somewhere during our mid-20s. Still, humans can continue to learn new information well into old age. Now, we know how.
To study this, the international team, led by Elisabeth Wenger from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, referred back to past research on how the brain learns, giving particular attention to a study in which right-handed people learned to write and draw with their left hands. Here, the researchers observed brain volume increased initially as the volunteers learned a new skill, but then it shrunk back down to its original size after three weeks. Similar results were also seen in monkeys and rats as they were taught new skills.