Consider a skill you would like to learn, like playing the piano. How do you progress from “Chopsticks” to Chopin? As you learn to do something new with your hands, does the brain also do something new? We found that monkeys learned new skilled behavior by generating new neural activity patterns. We used a brain–computer interface (BCI), which directly links neural activity to movement of a computer cursor, to encourage animals to generate new neural activity patterns. Over several days, the animals began to exhibit new patterns of neural activity that enabled them to control the BCI cursor. This suggests that learning to play the piano and other skills might also involve the generation of new neural activity patterns.Abstract
Learning has been associated with changes in the brain at every level of organization. However, it remains difficult to establish a causal link between specific changes in the brain and new behavioral abilities. We establish that new neural activity patterns emerge with learning. We demonstrate that these new neural activity patterns cause the new behavior. Thus, the formation of new patterns of neural population activity can underlie the learning of new skills.