Learn to Juggle, Rewire Your Brain

By Eliza Strickland | October 14, 2009 10:19 am

juggling-2Inside the brain of someone who’s learning to juggle, some interesting changes take place. Researchers used MRI scans to study the brains of people before and after a six-week training course in juggling, and say they saw a 5% increase in white matter – the cabling network of the brain [BBC News].

The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, follows up on previous work that found changes in the more famous gray matter of the brain, which consists of the cell bodies of the neurons where processing and computation take place. The white matter, which consists mostly of the axons that stretch away from the cell bodies, can be thought of as the brain’s wiring, and researchers say this is the first time that changes have been observed in the white matter of a healthy adult.

Says lead researcher Heidi Johansen-Berg: “We tend to think of the brain as being static, or even beginning to degenerate, once we reach adulthood…. In fact we find the structure of the brain is ripe for change. We’ve shown that it is possible for the brain to condition its own wiring system to operate more efficiently” [Reuters].

The changes to the jugglers’ brains were found in a rear section called the intraparietal sulcus, which has been shown to contain nerves that react to us reaching and grasping for objects in our peripheral vision. There was a great variation in the ability of the volunteers to juggle but all of them showed changes in white matter [BBC News]. This demonstrates that the brain growth is a result of the time spent training, and isn’t linked to skill level. The researchers also note that juggling isn’t the only activity that could produce such changes–Johansen-Berg says she chose juggling simply because it was a complex task for people to learn.

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Image: flickr / brightlightphotographydotcom

  • Jumblepudding

    I had a college professor who tried to teach me to juggle and I dismissed it as a waste of my tuition dollars. I am kicking myself very hard right now.

  • katesisco

    Love it!! My dad (O’Moriarty) the old way, said we had a relative (great-great uncle) in Ireland that was an acrobat!! Johnny the Jumper. Our family was from Kerry, where we supposedly left the same amount of brothers (5) who immigrated to America. One sister who came was Johanna, anyone know of the Irish form of this name? Dad was brilliant.

    Merzenich says the amount of difficulty and attention paid is the key to sharpness. Learn Mandarin, or how to spell it!!

  • Mick Mankford

    @katesisco: What in God’s name are you blathering on about?

  • azriel nativ

    One of the more respected ancient Jewish scholars at the period of the second Jewish temple [about 40 a.d], used at a feast that was celebrated exactly at this year’s time,used to pick 8 torches and to juggle!

  • Tom

    I actually saw a seminar at my job awhile back..I believe it was called ‘How to Think Like DaVinci’, in which the speaker Michael Gelb actually brought tennis balls and got everyone to spend time trying to juggle for this very same reason.

  • freemol

    I learned how to juggle 3 and 4 balls some months ago. While practicing I noticed changes in my heart rate (must’ve been the excitement of seeing that I was really doing it) and it made me break a sweat too, and my eyes were all over the place. I thought that it was a heck of an excercise! Now that I can do it, I can spend a week or two without practicing and when I pick it up again, it’s there! It’s as if my body knows where the balls will land without even looking at them! My reflexes, as in catching something that slipped from my grasp before it hits the floor are amazing now. No doubt the juggling had something to do with it. Fun stuff!

  • Dave in Calif

    Is this the same as juggling bank accounts, or polititions juggling our tax dollars?

  • http://clubneko.net nick

    The only difference between a guy on the street and a piano virtuoso is 10,000 hours of practice.

  • coleen

    I am glad that it is being put out there but it is not new information. It should be studied more for many disorders and used right now.

  • Arki

    Could this be used to prevent alzheimer. I saw sometime ago an article on a study that said that people who read frequently had a lower percentage of probability of suffering alzheimer.
    Maybe this exercise to the brain could contribute to prevent this deseas also.

  • http://engineer Ralphie

    Obama must havr a head full of white cells resulting from juggling all unfulfilleed promises.those l

  • Doktor C

    After reading this I want to learn how to juggle, it’s cool to show off if nothing else. I found a decent guide http://www.firststephelpr.com/juggle.html but it only teaches how to juggle with 3 balls, does anybody know where I can learn how to juggle something else or more balls?

  • Mick Mankford

    @Doktor C:

    I juggle with two balls, but I was born with that many.

  • http://www.adeptmarketingsolutions.com/team internet marketing howell, mi

    you have got an important blog here! would you wish to make some invite posts on my blog?


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