Researchers continue to probe the limits of the brain's plasticity
To the brain, electronic hardware is no different from flesh and blood, suggests a study at the University of California, Berkeley. In the experiment, monkeys learned to control a computer cursor—a stand-in for a bionic limb—through microelectrodes wiretapping their motor cortex. Although this feat is nothing new, the researchers showed for the first time that a stable memory of the new accessory had formed in the brain.
During normal development, a baby learns to control its limbs by creating a mental map of the movable parts of its body—a motor homunculus of sorts. The new finding parallels that process, says neuroscientist Jose Carmena, who led the study, “but it’s about a prosthetic device, and that’s what is profound about it. We’re talking about an extension of your body’s schema.” In other words, once the brain-machine interface gets up to speed, our gray matter might already be set up to achieve effortless, plug-and-play-like control of electronic add-ons.
2 Dec 2009