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BODY WATCH : A Major Part of Talent Is All in Your Head

November 14, 1995|THE WASHINGTON POST

Psychologists traditionally have thought of human talent as the product of two largely independent forces--"nature" and "nurture." Nature is the innate, physical material that makes a talent possible, and "nurture" is the effect of environment, learning and personal history that allows a talent to flourish.

It is now clear that the brain undergoes measurable physical change in response to a person's experiences and preoccupations. Just how entangled nature and nurture are was shown recently in a study in Science. Thomas Elbert of the University of Konstanz, in Germany, and colleagues measured the brain matter devoted to sensation in the left hands of string players, who used the left hand to form notes and chords.

The researchers used magnetic source imaging to map the region of the brain active when the fingers of the musicians' left hands were painlessly touched. Six non-musicians were also tested. A region of the brain called the post-central gyrus is responsible for processing sensation. The musicians on average had more of the postcentral gyrus dedicated to the left hand than to the right hand, and more dedicated to the left than did the non-musicians.

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