January 30, 2016

Practice makes perfect, York U brain study confirms

(January 30, 2016)  In this study, Faculty of Health researchers were looking at fMRI brain scans of professional ballet dancers to measure the long-term effects of learning.

“We wanted to study how the brain gets activated with long-term rehearsal of complex dance motor sequences,” says Professor Joseph DeSouza, who studies and supports people with Parkinson’s disease. “The study outcome will help with understanding motor learning and developing effective treatments to rehabilitate the damaged or diseased brain.”

For the study, 11 dancers (19-50 years of age) from the National Ballet of Canada were asked to visualize dance movements to music, while undergoing fMRI scanning. The scans measured Blood-Oxygen-Level-Dependent (BOLD) contrasts at four time points over 34 weeks, when they were learning a new dance.

“Our aim was to find out the long-term impact of the cortical changes that occur as one goes from learning a motor sequence to becoming an expert at it,” says coauthor Rachel Bar, who was a ballet dancer herself. “Our results also suggest that understanding the neural underpinnings of complex motor tasks such as learning a new dance can be an effective model to study motor learning in the real world.”

journal reference (Open Access) >>