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Wednesday, 24 October, 2001, 19:36 GMT 20:36 UK
Subliminal learning works, says study
Students celebrating graduation, BBC
But it will not mean the end of classrooms
Some tasks can be learned without even paying attention, a new study says.

A team of scientists led by Takeo Watanabe of Boston University, US, got volunteers to concentrate on one task while surreptitiously training them for another.

They performed better than untrained colleagues despite not being aware of the training.

The team writes in the journal Nature that its findings have important implications for understanding how the brain adjusts to the environment.

The researchers got the volunteers to name letters appearing on a screen.

Flexible brains

While they were working, a series of dots were moving, apparently randomly, around the screen. In actual fact, one in 20 of them was moving in a particular direction.

When asked later to detect similar dots moving in the same direction, the volunteers performed better than counterparts who had not had the subliminal exposure.

The findings do not spell the end for paying attention in class.

"Although the present finding does not deny the important role of attention in perceptual learning and in motion, it indicates that the adult brain has the flexibility to adapt to certain features of the environment as a result of mere exposure," the team writes.

The scientists speculate that subliminal learning may have helped evolving humans pick up on features of their environment more efficiently.

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