Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign led by Art Kramer report they can predict performance of a complex learning task – such as learning how to play a difficult video game -- with "unprecedented accuracy" by analyzing activity in a specific brain region.
The study findings, published in the online journal PLoS ONE, may lead to the development of strategies for training tailored to individual strengths and weaknesses. The researchers tested their results against other measures and replicated the findings in new trials with different study subjects.
"We predict up to three times as much of the variance -- in learning -- as you would using performance measures," Kramer said in a statement.
Kramer and colleagues used established brain imaging techniques. Instead of measuring how brain activity differs before and after subjects learn a task, the researchers analyzed background activity in the basal ganglia, a group of brain structures known to be important for procedural learning, coordinated movement and feelings of reward.