Research NewsNeurobiology

Owl Study Sheds Light on How Young Brains Learn

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Science  06 Mar 1998:
Vol. 279, Issue 5356, pp. 1451-1452
DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5356.1451

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In work described on page 1531, a neuroscientist has found that early experience imposes a "memory trace" on the brain that can lie dormant until adulthood and then be reactivated. He came to this conclusion by studying barn owls that, when young, had learned to adapt to a visual field shifted by prisms fitted over their eyes. He found that the trained birds, unlike controls, could relearn the task as adults, apparently because they had grown extra neural connections when they first adjusted to the prisms. However, they could not adjust to prism shifts of other directions or magnitudes, which suggests that they were limited by the connections they had grown earlier. If these results can be generalized to other animals, including humans, it will further reinforce the idea that exposing children to more experiences at a young age makes them smarter adults.