Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Less pain for learning gain: Research offers a strategy to increase learning with less effort

Date:
September 23, 2010
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Scientists have long agreed that perceptual skills related to language learning and reading can be enhanced through practice. As a result, therapies for poor readers and language learning impaired children often are long and tedious. In what may be metaplasticity's first behavioral demonstration, this study finds a way to make training easier but equally effective. It also could lead to easier training techniques for musicians, foreign language learners and others.

Scientists long have recognized that many perceptual skills important for language comprehension and reading can be enhanced through practice. Now research from Northwestern University suggests a new way of training that could reduce by at least half the effort previously thought necessary to make learning gains.

Related Articles


The research also may be the first behavioral demonstration of metaplasticity -- the idea that experiences that on their own do not generate learning can influence how effective later experiences are at generating learning.

"Prior to our work much of the research into perceptual learning could be summed up as 'no pain, no gain,'" says Beverly Wright, first author of a study in the Sept. 22 Journal of Neuroscience and communication sciences and disorders professor at Northwestern. "Our work suggests that you can have the same gain in learning with substantially less pain."

The findings could lead to less effortful therapies for children who suffer from language learning impairments involving perceptual skills. And they hold potential for members of the general population with an interest in enhancing perceptual abilities -- for musicians seeking to sharpen their sensitivity to sound, people studying a second language or physicians learning to tell the difference between regular and irregular heartbeats.

Previous research showed that individuals become better at many perceptual tasks by performing them again and again, typically making the training tedious and long in length. It also showed that mere exposure to the perceptual stimuli used during practice on these tasks does not generate learning.

But the Northwestern researchers found that robust learning occurred when they combined periods of practice that alone were too brief to cause learning with periods of mere exposure to perceptual stimuli. "To our surprise, we found that two 'wrongs' actually can make a right when it comes to perceptual learning," says Wright.

What's more, they found that the combination led to perceptual learning gains that were equal to the learning gains made by participants who performed twice as much continuous task training (training which by nature of its repetition and length often is onerous).

"It's as though once you get your system revved up by practicing a particular skill, the brain acts as though you are still engaged in the task when you are not and learning still takes place," says Wright, who teaches in Northwestern's School of Communication.

Wright and Northwestern researchers Andrew Sabin, Yuxuan Zhang, Nicole Marrone and Matthew Fitzgerald worked with four groups of adult participants aged 18 to 30 years with normal hearing and no previous experience with psychoacoustic tasks. Their goal was to improve participants' ability to discriminate between the pitches of different tones.

The researchers initially determined the smallest difference in pitch that participants could discriminate from a 1,000 Hertz standard tone. They then divided the participants into four groups, each of which went through a different training regimen.

Participants in one group were trained for 20 minutes per day for a week on the pitch-discrimination task. Over and over again, they were asked to tell the difference between the 1,000 Hertz tone and a lower tone but showed no improvement.

Of greatest importance for the study, participants in a second group showed significant learning gains when the same amount of target task training (20 minutes) was combined with 20 minutes of work on an unrelated puzzle while repeatedly presenting a 1,000 Hertz tone through headphones.

Impressively, the learning of the second group also was comparable to that of a third group that for a week practiced the pitch-discrimination target task for 40 minutes per day.

A fourth group of participants repeatedly exposed to a 1,000 Hertz tone for 40 minutes per day while performing an unrelated task showed no learning gains.

Further experiments revealed that the order of presentation -- whether the 20 minutes of target task training occurred before or after the 20 minutes of the related task -- did not affect learning. Each scenario yielded equal pitch discrimination learning gains.

In addition, the researchers discovered that the effectiveness of the combination of the target task training and of the unrelated training plus stimuli presentation began declining if the two tasks were separated by more than 15 minutes. Pitch discrimination learning -- or evidence of metaplasticity -- disappeared completely if the sessions were separated by four hours.

The research is supported by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders-National Institutes of Health.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Beverly A. Wright, Andrew T. Sabin, Yuxuan Zhang, Nicole Marrone, and Matthew B. Fitzgerald. Enhancing Perceptual Learning by Combining Practice with Additional Sensory Stimulation. Journal of Neuroscience, 2010; 30: 12868-12877 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0487-10.2010

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Less pain for learning gain: Research offers a strategy to increase learning with less effort." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 September 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100922171604.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2010, September 23). Less pain for learning gain: Research offers a strategy to increase learning with less effort. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100922171604.htm
Northwestern University. "Less pain for learning gain: Research offers a strategy to increase learning with less effort." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100922171604.htm (accessed November 26, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) A new study links greater authority with increased depressive symptoms among women in the workplace. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Newsy (Nov. 23, 2014) Millions of American suffer from seasonal depression every year. It can lead to adverse health effects, but there are ways to ease symptoms. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins