Complex motor skills of eventual benefit can be learned after considerable trial and error. What do structural brain changes that accompany such effortful long-term learning tell us about the mechanisms for developing innovative behavior? Using MRI, we monitored brain structure before, during and after four marmosets learnt to use a rake, over a long period of 10-13 months. Throughout learning, improvements in dexterity and visuo-motor co-ordination correlated with increased volume in the lateral extrastriate cortex. During late learning, when the most complex behavior was maintained by sustained motivation to acquire the skill, the volume of the nucleus accumbens increased. These findings reflect the motivational state required to learn, and show accelerated function in higher visual cortex that is consistent with neurocognitive divergence across a spectrum of primate species.
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