#Knowledge

Juggling and the human brain

Juggling and other circus skills are usually regarded only as a kind of amusement, entertainment or sometimes relaxation method. Few people realize that these skills, and juggling in particular, influence our body and mind. This has been confirmed by scientific studies.

Our brain is composed of two hemispheres, the left and the right. Each is responsible for the functioning of their opposite side of the body. The hemispheres process information coming to the brain from our body in a specific manner. In general, the logic brain (usually the left brain hemisphere) deals with details, components (such as language constituents, letters, sentences), processing of language and linear formulae. The opposite one (usually the right brain hemisphere), deals with understanding of the language, images, rhythm, emotions, intuition and creativity.

LEFT HEMISPHERE

starts with a detail (component)
language constituents
syntax, semantics
letters, sentences
figures
linear analysis
pays attention to differences
controls feelings
planning, structure, organization
sequential thinking
language-oriented
future-oriented
method (technique)
sport (hand/eye/foot position)
art (materials,
tools, how to do it)
music (notes, beat, tempo)

RIGHT HEMISPHERE

starts with holistic picture
language comprehension
image, emotions, meaning
rhythm, fluency, dialect
images, (representations), intuition
intuition – estimates (evaluation)
pays attention to similarities
feeling-free
spontaneity, smoothness
thinking about many things at the same time
feeling/experience-oriented
focus on the present moment
smoothness and movement
sport (smoothness and rhythm)
art (image, emotions, smoothness)
music (passion, rhythm, image)

Most abilities we possess comprise interrelated functions of both hemispheres. Production for instance, requires the details, technique, structure and planning of the left brain hemisphere and smoothness, emotion, intuition and creativity from the right one. It is similar with language learning; we need words, sentence structure and syntax as well as language comprehension, rhythm, dialects etc. at the same time.

In order to be the most effective and efficient in everything we do, it is important to be able to quickly and effectively process information coming from both hemispheres. This is possible when both hemispheres are used. Juggling and other circus skills equally engage both sides of the body, activating both hemispheres to an equal degree. The corpus callosum is then fully developed which controls processes across the hemispheres enabling interconnection of the flowing information (it can transfer over 4 thousand million data bits per second by means of hundreds of millions of nerve fibres). These skills also contribute to the development of peripheral vision and kinesthetic sense (e.g. by estimation of the path and speed of flying props, their distance from the palm, etc.).

The great contribution of movement to the children’s learning process has been shown by studies conducted, for example, in Canada. Pupils who spent one extra hour in gymnastics class everyday, got better exam results than other children. Other studies have shown that physical activities involving muscle activity and especially coordinated movements (such as juggling!) stimulate the production of neurotrophins – natural substances which stimulate neuron growth and development of the number of neuron connections in the brain.

Studies have shown that there is a direct interrelation between eye-hand coordination and the ability to read, write and understand. A paper by Carole E. Smith, physical education specialist from a primary school at Lackland City, US, has shown that juggling may enhance the ability to write and read. Smith’s work supports earlier studies by Maria Montessori and Jean Piaget who formulated hypotheses according to which physical exercises and tactile sensations enhance education results.

Interesting results concerning the interrelation of juggling and brain development were presented by German researchers a few years ago. A team of scientists led by Bogdan Dragoński at the University of Regensburg conducted an experiment the results of which attracted a lot of publicity in the world of neuroscience. The researchers divided the informants into two groups. The first group was supposed to learn how to juggle three balls for at least one minute during the period of three months. The second group was not given such training. Both groups were scanned using MRI and brain structures of individuals from both groups were compared on a regular basis – the scientists were looking for changes in the brain tissue appearing as a result of regular training sessions in juggling. After three months, they noticed brain tissue growth in the cortex of the posterior part of the left parietal lobe (region 3) and bilateral growth in the central temporal areas (region 2) in individuals given training in juggling. These regions specialize in processing and storing of information concerning the way in which we notice and predict the movement of objects.

The results are interesting for two reasons. Firstly, they confirm that brain development may occur not only in childhood but also at later stages of our lives. Secondly, seemingly irrelevant exercises, such as juggling three balls, may lead to brain tissue growth just as weightlifting develops one’s muscles. It’s easy to deduce that this observation is particularly significant for the possible rehabilitation and reconstruction of brain cells after brain damage as a result of accidents or disease.

By: Mirosław Urban
References:
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2. Dennison P.E., Brain Gym, International Neurokinesiology Institute of Movement Development and Reflex Integration, Warsaw 2003.
3. Hannaford C. “Smart moves, why learning is not all in your head. Basic guide to educational kinesiology”. Published by Medyk Sp. z o.o., 1998
4. Kolb, D. “Experimental learning, Experience as the source of learning and development”, Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984
5. Olsen, E., “Fit Kids, Smart Kids – new research confirms that experience boosts brain-power”  Parents Magazine, October, 1994
6. Mirosław, U. (2005a) “Juggling – a child, teenage and adult development tool” published in: Klanza after hours, Klanza Publishing House No. 1/2005
7. Urban, M., Fortuna, P., Markiewicz, P. “Juggling is good for your brain”, Polish psychological magazine ‘Charaktery’ 2005 b