Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Why there are bad learners: EEG activity predicts learning success

13.02.2013
Research team discovers: brain does not process sensory information sufficiently

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.

Funding

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bernstein Focus Learning, “State Dependencies of Learning”), the James S. McDonnel Foundation, the Max-Planck Society (Minerva Programme) and the German Research Foundation (CRC 874, “Integration and Representation of Sensory Processes”) funded the project.

Bibliographic record

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

Further information

PD Dr. Hubert Dinse, Neural Plasticity Lab, Institute for Neural Computation at the Ruhr-Universität, 44780 Bochum, Germany, tel. +49/234/32-25565, e-mail: hubert.dinse@rub.de

PD Dr. Petra Ritter, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig; Charité Universitätsmedizin, Berlin, Germany, tel. +49/341/9940-2220, e-mail: petra.ritter@charite.de

Click for more

Neural Plasticity Lab at the RUB
http://www.neuralplasticitylab.de/index.aspx?culture=EN

Previous press release on passive learning without attention
http://aktuell.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/pm2011/pm00136.html.en

Editor: Dr. Julia Weiler

Dr. Josef König | idw
Further information:
http://www.ruhr-uni-bochum.de

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Fine organic particles in the atmosphere are more often solid glass beads than liquid oil droplets
21.04.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie

nachricht Study overturns seminal research about the developing nervous system
21.04.2017 | University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

Im Focus: Quantum-physical Model System

Computer-assisted methods aid Heidelberg physicists in reproducing experiment with ultracold atoms

Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...

Im Focus: Glacier bacteria’s contribution to carbon cycling

Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.

A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A promising target for kidney fibrosis

21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>