Part of the Brain: The Inside Story exhibition.

Your brain matures when you become an adult, but it never stops changing. Every experience leaves its mark in the brain, as signals race down pathways from neuron to neuron. When you remember or repeat the experience, signals retrace those pathways and reinforce them. So how does the brain respond when you study or learn a new skill?

How it Works

Studies show that different parts of the brain are shaped by different activities, for example:


When you learn to read and write, language networks in your brain get rearranged. Research shows that readers use different brain pathways than nonreaders when they try to remember words.


As you gain knowledge, connections increase in your hippocampus, which helps store memories, and parts of your cortex. In one brain experiment, medical students showed greater thickness in these areas after three months of preparing for exams.


If you learn to play an instrument, connections may expand in the touch and hearing centers of your brain. Musicians who master the trumpet develop more neural pathways for processing brassy sounds.


Meditating regularly can expand areas in the outer part of your brain, the cortex. Brain studies suggest that people who meditate often grow thicker tissue in parts of the cortex linked to attention and the senses.


When you become skilled at a sport, you build up your body--but you also strengthen the parts of the brain that control it. Studies show that athletes who excel at racket sports develop larger motor areas for the hand that swings the racket.

Your brain changes every day of your life, forming new connections as you learn and react to the world. So when a part of the body is impaired, the brain can often adapt in surprising ways. When blind people study braille, for example, areas of the brain that control their fingers expand to help with fine movement. When a person suffers a stroke, they can lose the ability to speak or move parts of the body. But with intensive training, stroke patients can often regain these abilities as neural networks are reestablished in healthy parts of the brain.