Learning

How reward and daytime sleep boost learning

 How reward and daytime sleep boost learning  Learning, News  Comments Off on How reward and daytime sleep boost learning
Oct 192015
 

Female hand writing notes. Concept of learning.

Female hand writing notes. Concept of learning.

A new study suggests that receiving rewards as you learn can help cement new facts and skills in your memory, particularly when combined with a daytime nap.

The findings from the University of Geneva, to be published in the journal eLife, reveal that memories associated with a reward are preferentially reinforced by sleep. Even a short nap after a period of learning is beneficial.

“Rewards may act as a kind of tag, sealing information in the brain during learning,” says lead researcher Dr Kinga Igloi from the University of Geneva.

“During sleep, that information is favourably consolidated over information associated with a low reward and is transferred to areas of the brain associated with long-term memory.”

“Our findings are relevant for understanding the devastating effects that lack of sleep can have on achievement,” she says.

Thirty-one healthy volunteers were randomly assigned to either a sleep group or a ‘wake’ group and the sensitivity of both groups to reward was assessed as being equal. Participants’ brains were scanned while they were trained to remember pairs of pictures. Eight series of pictures were shown and volunteers were told that remembering pairs in four of them would elicit a higher reward.

Following a 90-minute break of either sleep or rest, they were tested on their memory for the pairs and asked to rate how confident they were about giving a correct answer. Participants were also asked to take part in a surprise test of exactly the same nature three months later.

Both groups’ performance was better for highly rewarded picture pairs, but the sleep group performed better overall. Strikingly, during the surprise test three months later participants who had slept after learning were selectively better for the highly rewarded pairs.

The people who slept were also more confident of achieving a correct answer during the memory tests, even after three months.

The MRI scans revealed that the sleep group experienced greater activity of the hippocampus, a small area of the brain critical for forming memories. This correlated with a higher number of bursts of brain activity called slow spindles. After three months, the sleep group also showed increased connectivity between the hippocampus, the medial prefrontal cortex and the striatum, areas of the brain implicated in memory consolidation and reward processing.

“We already knew that sleep helps strengthens memories, but we now also know that it helps us select and retain those that have a rewarding value,” says Igloi.

“It makes adaptive sense that the consolidation of memory should work to prioritise information that is critical to our success and survival.”

Source: ELIFE

Apr 042012
 

Despite a world of opportunities just a click away, there has been no significant shift in the uptake of lifelong learning over the past decade according to new research. Pronouncements at government level about the creation of ‘a learning society’ where education is the key to a nation’s economic development – the so-called ‘knowledge economy’- are not backed by evidence in society, the researchers found.

Jan 242011
 

 Phobias about snakes and spiders - we learn them fast and earlyThere’s a reason why Hollywood makes movies like Arachnophobia and Snakes on a Plane: Most people are afraid of spiders and snakes. A new paper published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reviews research with infants and toddlers and finds that we aren’t born afraid of spiders and snakes, but we can learn these fears very quickly. 

One theory about why we fear spiders and snakes is because so many are poisonous; natural selection may have favored people who stayed away from these dangerous critters. Indeed, several studies have found that it’s easier for both humans and monkeys to learn to fear evolutionarily threatening things than non-threatening things.

For example, research by Arne Ohman at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, you can teach people to associate an electric shock with either photos of snakes and spiders or photos of flowers and mushrooms—but the effect lasts a lot longer with the snakes and spiders. Similarly, Susan Mineka’s research (from Northwestern University) shows that monkeys that are raised in the lab aren’t afraid of snakes, but they’ll learn to fear snakes much more readily than flowers or rabbits. 

Meditate and change your brain

 Meditate and change your brain  Learning, Meditation  Comments Off on Meditate and change your brain
Jan 212011
 

Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The Massachusetts General Hospital researchers study is the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s grey matter.

"Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day," says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, the study’s senior author. "This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing."

Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced mediation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the  in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.

Jan 202011
 

 Spring break. Us college students know how to party,but do they study hard too?In spite of soaring tuition costs, more and more students go to college every year. A bachelor’s degree is now required for entry into a growing number of professions. And some parents begin planning for the expense of sending their kids to college when they’re born. Almost everyone strives to go, but almost no one asks the fundamental question posed by Academically Adrift: are undergraduates really learning anything once they get there?

For a large proportion of students, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s answer to that question is a definitive no. Their extensive research draws on survey responses, transcript data, and, for the first time, the state-of-the-art Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test administered to students in their first semester and then again at the end of their second year. According to their analysis of more than 2,300 undergraduates at twenty-four institutions, 45 percent of these students demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills—including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing—during their first two years of college.

As troubling as their findings are, Arum and Roksa argue that for many faculty and administrators they will come as no surprise—instead, they are the expected result of a student body distracted by socializing or working and an institutional culture that puts undergraduate learning close to the bottom of the priority list.

Trust your gut – but only sometimes

 Trust your gut – but only sometimes  Learning, Psyche  Comments Off on Trust your gut – but only sometimes
Jan 042011
 

Listen to your heart to hear what your gut is saying When faced with decisions, we often follow our intuition—our self-described “gut feelings”—without understanding why. Our ability to make hunch decisions varies considerably: Intuition can either be a useful ally or it can lead to costly and dangerous mistakes. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that the trustworthiness of our intuition is really influenced by what is happening physically in our bodies. When we listen to our hearts we can hear what our gut is saying.

 
“We often talk about intuition coming from the body—following our gut instincts and trusting our hearts”, says Barnaby D. Dunn, of the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, U.K., first author of the new paper. What isn’t certain is whether we should follow, or be suspicious of, what our bodies are telling us. And do we differ in the influence that our gut feelings have on how we make decisions?

 

Harder-to-read fonts boost learning

 Harder-to-read fonts boost learning  A Study Shows, Learning  Comments Off on Harder-to-read fonts boost learning
Dec 172010
 

 Making learning materials more difficult to read can significantly improve student performance. Yes, you read that correctly, Christian Jarrett writes for the British Psychological Society. Connor Diemand-Yauman and his colleagues think the effect occurs because fonts that are more awkward to read encourage deeper processing of the to-be-learned material.

Diemand-Yauman first tested this principal in the lab with 28 participants (aged 18 to 40) who spent 90 seconds learning the seven features associated with three alien species. Half the students learned from materials written in clear 16-point Ariel font, whereas the other half learned from materials written either in 12-point Comic Sans or 12-point Bodoni. As the researchers explained, these last two fonts are obviously more difficult to read when considered side-by-side with the Ariel font, but viewed on their own few people would notice anything amiss. Fifteen minutes later the participants were tested and the key finding was that those who learned from the harder-to-read fonts answered 86.5 per cent of questions correctly, compared with the 72.8 per cent success rate achieved by the participants who learned from the clearer font.

Dec 122010
 

 Medical researchers have found a missing link that explains the interaction between brain state and the neural triggers responsible for learning, potentially opening up new ways of boosting cognitive function in the face of diseases such as Alzheimer’s as well as enhancing memory in healthy people.

Much is known about the neural processes that occur during learning but until now it has not been clear why it occurs during certain brain states but not others. Now researchers from the University of Bristol have been able to study, in isolation, the specific neurotransmitter which enhances learning and memory.

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