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Does Studying for Law School Test Boost Your Brain?

Researchers found structural differences after people crammed for rigorous exam

THURSDAY, Sept. 6 (HealthDay News) -- The intense preparation required for the law school admission test (LSAT) changes the structure of the brain, resulting in stronger connections between areas of the brain that play an important role in reasoning.

That's the finding of University of California, Berkeley, neuroscientists who used diffusion tensor imaging to analyze the brains of 24 college students or recent graduates before and after 100 hours of LSAT training over three months.

The findings suggest that training people in reasoning skills can reinforce brain circuits involved in thinking and reasoning and might even help increase a person's IQ scores, the researchers said.

"The fact that performance on the LSAT can be improved with practice is not new. People know that they can do better on the LSAT, which is why preparation courses exist," study leader Allyson Mackey, a graduate student in UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, said in a university news release.

"What we were interested in is whether and how the brain changes as a result of LSAT preparation, which we think is, fundamentally, reasoning training. We wanted to show that the ability to reason is malleable in adults," she explained.

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke funded the study, along with Blueprint Test Preparation, the release noted.

The study was published recently in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.

"A lot of people still believe that you are either smart or you are not, and sure, you can practice for a test, but you are not fundamentally changing your brain," senior author Silvia Bunge, an associate professor in the UC Berkeley department of psychology and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, said in the news release.

"Our research provides a more positive message. How you perform on one of these tests is not necessarily predictive of your future success, it merely reflects your prior history of cognitive engagement, and potentially how prepared you are at this time to enter a graduate program or a law school, as opposed to how prepared you could ever be," Bunge noted.

Another expert, John Gabrieli, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, agreed.

"I think this is an exciting discovery," Gabrieli, who was not involved in the study, said in the news release. "It shows, with rigorous analysis, that brain pathways important for thinking and reasoning remain plastic in adulthood, and that intensive, real-life educational experience that trains reasoning also alters the brain pathways that support reasoning ability," he explained.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about the brain.


SOURCE: University of California, Berkeley, news release, August 2012

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