Neuroscientists from the University of California at Berkeley have found that the structure of the brain is changed microscopically by intensive prep for the LSAT. The change in the brain actually strengthens the connection in the brain that is responsible for reasoning.
“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,” Allyson Mackey said. Mackey was the head of the study and is a graduate of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the school. “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.”
The findings of the study were released in the journal called Frontiers in Neuroanatomy. The research from the study shows that people who struggle with reasoning can improve the skill by studying.
“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,” Silvia Bunge said. Bunge is an author of the study and is an associate professor at the school’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Department of Psychology. “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.”
The changes in the brain’s structure were found after 24 college students or recent graduates had their brains scanned using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). The brains were scanned after the students studied for the LSAT for 100 hours spread across three months. The results were compared to those from a control group of students. After comparison, the students who studied for the LSAT showed stronger connections between the frontal lobes and between the frontal loves and parietal lobes.
“A lot of data on reasoning has suggested that it is left-hemisphere dominant,” Mackey said. “But what we thought originally was that this kind of reasoning training would require repeated co-activation of frontal and parietal cortices on both sides of the brain. Our data are consistent with the idea that, while reasoning is left-hemisphere dominant, with training you learn to compensate; if you are not very good at reasoning, you start bringing on the right side.”