Athlete brains have been rewired
These studies suggest that some martial artists are great because they are able to rewire their brains according to certain rules. As neuroscientists decipher those rules, they may find ways to give people better skills. In February 2009, Krakauer and Pablo Celnik of Johns Hopkins offered a glimpse of what those interventions might look like. The scientists had volunteers move a cursor horizontally across a screen by pinching a device called a force transducer between thumb and index finger. The harder each subject squeezed, the faster the cursor moved. Each player was asked to move the cursor back and forth between a series of targets, trying to travel the course as quickly as possible without overshooting. The group trained 45 minutes a day for five days. By the end of training, the players were making far fewer errors.
The scientists also trained another group of people on the same game, except they put a battery on top of the head of each subject that sent a small current through the surface of the brain toward a group of neurons in the primary motor cortex. The electric stimulation allowed these people to learn the game better. By the end of five days of training, they could move the cursor faster and make fewer errors than the control group. For three months, the subjects came back into the lab from time to time to perform the task again. Everyone got rusty over time, but at the end of the testing, the people who had gotten the electrode boost remained superior to the others.
This study brings up an ethical issue. Would it be cheating for a black belt to wear a portable electrode as she practiced her patterns? After all, she is only training her brain.