Photo courtesy of the NIH Image Gallery

A patient is prepared for functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS)

When you’re learning a new skill, when do you decide to move on to the next practice exercise? For most of us it will be when we feel comfortable or a teacher tells us to.

However, now researchers have invented a way of assessing how well you are learning, directly from your brain.

As set out in the paper ‘Learn Piano with BACh’, computer PhD candidate Beste Yuksel and her colleagues at Tufts University, Medford Massachusetts, with supervisor Professor Rob Jacob, wanted to create a system that could help people learn more effectively.

By using a functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) they were able to measure the oxygen levels in the pre-frontal cortex of people’s brains. This told the scientists how hard the brain was working to process and remember and thus when they were ready to move on.

The result was that people who were measured actually learnt significantly faster than those who were not, thus having major repercussions for all learning since the same can be applied to maths, languages, reading, almost anything.