How does the brain learn a new skill?

Your brain is a fantastic tool – probably the best one you will ever use. It learns and grows as you do, and every time you learn something new your brain changes in unexpected ways. It works like a muscle – each time you practice a new skill, it becomes easier and easier for your brain to do until you can do it without even really thinking. This is called long-term potentiation: when two neurons are stimulated simultaneously, the link between them strengthens. As this action is repeated, a strong connection is established. That means that stimulating one neuron becomes more and more likely to excite the other, and the skill becomes almost automatic.

But as well as learning how to do the new skill, your brain (and your body too!) receives a number of other benefits. So what are they?

Dopamine release

When your brain learns a new skill like poker from, it releases dopamine – a kind of chemical reward. This makes learning more enjoyable and makes you want to repeat the experience so that you can store it in your long-term memory.


Myelin is the ‘white matter’ of the brain, and makes up around 50% of its mass. Learning new skills stimulates growth of myelin, which makes signal transmission between neurons much faster. This is especially beneficial to older people as it makes your brain feel like it’s working much better and faster.

The dangers of boredom

Not learning new things often leads to boredom, which can be dangerous for your health. People who report being bored for long periods of time are at a much higher risk for heart disease. So pick up a new skill – it will stimulate the growth of your brain, as well as feeling good and helping to keep your heart healthy.