By simply looking at the brain waves, researchers can predict who will improve most on an unfamiliar computer game.
They found that those most able to learn to play a new game quickly had brains that oscillated most powerfully in the alpha spectrum, the Daily Mail reported.
They said that the system could accurately predict who would improve after a month of practice.
The researchers used electroencephalography (EEG) to peek at electrical activity in the brains of 39 study subjects before they trained on Space Fortress, a video game developed for cognitive research.
The subjects, whose brain waves oscillated most powerfully in the alpha spectrum (about 10 times per second, or 10 hertz) when measured at the front of the head, tended to learn at a faster rate than those whose brain waves oscillated with less power, the researchers found.
None of the subjects were daily video game players.
The EEG signal was a robust predictor of improvement on the game, University of Illinois postdoctoral researcher and Beckman Fellow Kyle Mathewson, who led the research with psychology professors and Beckman Institute faculty members Monica Fabiani and Gabriele Gratton, said.
"By measuring your brain waves the very first time you play the game, we can predict how fast you'll learn over the next month," Mathewson said.
The EEG results predicted about half of the difference in learning speeds between study subjects, he said.
The waves of electrical activity across the brain reflect the communication status of millions or billions of neurons, he added.
"These oscillations are the language of the brain, and different oscillations represent different brain functions," he said.
The researchers also found that learning to play the game improved subjects' reaction time and working memory (the ability to hold a piece of information in mind just until it is needed), skills that are important in everyday life.
The new findings offer tantalizing new clues to the mental states that appear to enhance our ability to perform complex tasks, the researchers claimed.
The findings are published in the journal Psychophysiology.