Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Why some people don't learn well: EEG shows insufficient processing of information to be learned

Date:
February 13, 2013
Source:
Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum
Summary:
The reason why some people are worse at learning than others has been revealed. Researchers have discovered that the main problem is not that learning processes are inefficient per se, but that the brain insufficiently processes the information to be learned.

EEG data recording.
Credit: Copyright: MPI CBS Leipzig

The reason why some people are worse at learning than others has been revealed by a research team from Berlin, Bochum, and Leipzig, operating within the framework of the Germany-wide network "Bernstein Focus State Dependencies of Learning." They have discovered that the main problem is not that learning processes are inefficient per se, but that the brain insufficiently processes the information to be learned.

The scientists trained the subjects' sense of touch to be more sensitive. In subjects who responded well to the training, the EEG revealed characteristic changes in brain activity, more specifically in the alpha waves. These alpha waves show, among other things, how effectively the brain exploits the sensory information needed for learning. "An exciting question now is to what extent the alpha activity can be deliberately influenced with biofeedback," says PD Dr. Hubert Dinse from the Neural Plasticity Lab of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum. "This could have enormous implications for therapy after brain injury or, quite generally, for the understanding of learning processes." The research team from the Ruhr-Universität, the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Charité -- Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences reported their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Learning without attention: passive training of the sense of touch

How well we learn depends on genetic aspects, the individual brain anatomy, and, not least, on attention. "In recent years we have established a procedure with which we trigger learning processes in people that do not require attention," says Hubert Dinse. The researchers were, therefore, able to exclude attention as a factor. They repeatedly stimulated the participants' sense of touch for 30 minutes by electrically stimulating the skin of the hand. Before and after this passive training, they tested the so-called "two-point discrimination threshold," a measure of the sensitivity of touch. For this, they applied gentle pressure to the hand with two needles and determined the smallest distance between the needles at which the patient still perceived them as separate stimuli. On average, the passive training improved the discrimination threshold by twelve percent -- but not in all of the 26 participants. Using EEG, the team studied why some people learned better than others.

Imaging the brain state using EEG: the alpha waves are decisive

The cooperation partners from Berlin and Leipzig, PD Dr. Petra Ritter, Dr. Frank Freyer, and Dr. Robert Becker recorded the subjects' spontaneous EEG before and during passive training. They then identified the components of the brain activity related to improvement in the discrimination test. The alpha activity was decisive, i.e., the brain activity was in the frequency range 8 to 12 hertz. The higher the alpha activity before the passive training, the better the people learned. In addition, the more the alpha activity decreased during passive training, the more easily they learned. These effects occurred in the somatosensory cortex, that is, where the sense of touch is located in the brain.

Researchers seek new methods for therapy

"How the alpha rhythm manages to affect learning is something we investigate with computer models," says PD Dr. Petra Ritter, Head of the Working Group "Brain Modes" at the MPI Leipzig and the Berlin Charité. "Only when we understand the complex information processing in the brain, can we intervene specifically in the processes to help disorders," adds Petra Ritter. New therapies are the aim of the cooperation network, which Ritter coordinates, the international "Virtual Brain" project, which her team collaborates on, and the "Neural Plasticity Lab," chaired by Hubert Dinse at the RUB.

Learning is dependent on access to sensory information

A high level of alpha activity counts as a marker of the readiness of the brain to exploit new incoming information. Conversely, a strong decrease of alpha activity during sensory stimulation counts as an indicator that the brain processes stimuli particularly efficiently. The results, therefore, suggest that perception-based learning is highly dependent on how accessible the sensory information is. The alpha activity, as a marker of constantly changing brain states, modulates this accessibility.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. F. Freyer, R. Becker, H.R. Dinse, P. Ritter. State-dependent perceptual learning. Journal of Neuroscience, 2013 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4039-12.2013

Cite This Page:

Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum. "Why some people don't learn well: EEG shows insufficient processing of information to be learned." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 February 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130213082332.htm>.
Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum. (2013, February 13). Why some people don't learn well: EEG shows insufficient processing of information to be learned. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130213082332.htm
Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum. "Why some people don't learn well: EEG shows insufficient processing of information to be learned." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130213082332.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) — Pushing the limits on style and self-expression is a rite of passage for teens and even younger kids. How far should schools go with their dress codes? The courts have sided with schools in an era when school safety is paramount. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) — A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Couples Who Sleep Less Than An Inch Apart Might Be Happiest

Couples Who Sleep Less Than An Inch Apart Might Be Happiest

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) — A new study by British researchers suggests couples' sleeping positions might reflect their happiness. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cognitive Function: Is It All Downhill From Age 24?

Cognitive Function: Is It All Downhill From Age 24?

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) — A new study out of Canada says cognitive motor performance begins deteriorating around age 24. 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:
from the past week

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