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Front Hum Neurosci. 2014 May 7;8:280. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00280. eCollection 2014.

Experts bodies, experts minds: How physical and mental training shape the brain.

Author information

1
Département des Neurosciences Fondamentales, Centre Médical Universitaire, Université de Genéve Genéve, Suisse ; Centre de Recherche et d'Innovation sur le Sport, Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, Université de Lyon, Villeurbanne Cedex Lyon, France.
2
Centre de Psychiatrie et Neurosciences (Inserm UMR S894), Université Paris Descartes Paris, France ; Laboratoire Mémoire et Cognition, Institut de Psychologie Boulogne-Billancourt, France.
3
Centre de Recherche et d'Innovation sur le Sport, Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, Université de Lyon, Villeurbanne Cedex Lyon, France.
4
Centre de Recherche et d'Innovation sur le Sport, Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, Université de Lyon, Villeurbanne Cedex Lyon, France ; Institut Universitaire de France Paris, France.

Abstract

Skill learning is the improvement in perceptual, cognitive, or motor performance following practice. Expert performance levels can be achieved with well-organized knowledge, using sophisticated and specific mental representations and cognitive processing, applying automatic sequences quickly and efficiently, being able to deal with large amounts of information, and many other challenging task demands and situations that otherwise paralyze the performance of novices. The neural reorganizations that occur with expertise reflect the optimization of the neurocognitive resources to deal with the complex computational load needed to achieve peak performance. As such, capitalizing on neuronal plasticity, brain modifications take place over time-practice and during the consolidation process. One major challenge is to investigate the neural substrates and cognitive mechanisms engaged in expertise, and to define "expertise" from its neural and cognitive underpinnings. Recent insights showed that many brain structures are recruited during task performance, but only activity in regions related to domain-specific knowledge distinguishes experts from novices. The present review focuses on three expertise domains placed across a motor to mental gradient of skill learning: sequential motor skill, mental simulation of the movement (motor imagery), and meditation as a paradigmatic example of "pure" mental training. We first describe results on each specific domain from the initial skill acquisition to expert performance, including recent results on the corresponding underlying neural mechanisms. We then discuss differences and similarities between these domains with the aim to identify the highlights of the neurocognitive processes underpinning expertise, and conclude with suggestions for future research.

KEYWORDS:

expertise; meditation; motor consolidation; motor imagery; motor skill; neural networks

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