Viewing two-dimensional images of the environment, as they occur in computer games, leads to sustained changes in the strength of nerve cell connections in the brain. In Cerebral Cortex, Prof. Dr. Denise Manahan-Vaughan and Anne Kemp of the RUB Department for Neurophysiology report about these findings.
When the researchers presented rats with new spatial environments on a computer screen, they observed long-lasting changes in the communication between nerve cells in a brain structure which is important for long-term memory (hippocampus). Thus, the researchers showed for the first time that active exploration of the environment is not necessary to obtain this effect.
“These results help to understand to what extent digital learning in the brain competes with learning in the physical environment”, says Manahan-Vaughan. “This is interesting for developing strategies for use of digital media in school. Such strategies can prove a useful antidote to the apathy in children towards the traditional teaching methods.”
Two mechanisms for learning in the brain
In the hippocampus, two different mechanisms for the long-term storage of new information are at work . Long-term potentiation leads to an increase in the communication between nerve cells. Long-term depression, on the other hand, weakens the connections between the cells. „According to our results, cell populations react with potentiation at the beginning, for instance when we enter a new room “, explains Manahan-Vaughan. „Long-term depression then allows us to refine this new cellular information and encode the details and characteristics of the room.“
Learning without movement
The Bochum team showed that long-term depression takes place in a special part of the hippocampus, when rats actively explore their environment. “We were, however, not sure if these changes in nerve cell communication were influenced by the movement of the animals or were purely due to learning about the novel objects”, explains Manahan-Vaughan. In order to separate both effects, the researchers presented the spatial context via a computer screen so that active exploration of the environment was unnecessary. Long-term depression occurred also without movement, meaning that it mediates passive learning in the hippocampus.
Computer and TV compete with learning in school
“School teachers, particularly at the junior school level have become increasingly concerned at their observations that each generation of school children exhibits shorter attention spans and poorer retention abilities than the previous generation“, states Manahan-Vaughan. “One explanation for this is the ever increasing use of the digital media by school children. Our results indeed show that mammals can learn equally well when they passively view information on a computer screen compared to actively exploring the environment for this information. Television or computer games after school may compete with the information learned in school.”
A. Kemp, D. Manahan-Vaughan (2011). Passive Spatial Perception Facilitates the Expression of Persistent Hippocampal Long-Term Depression, Cerebral Cortex, doi:10.1093/cercor/bhr233
Further informationProf. Dr. Denise Manahan-Vaughan, Abteilung für Neurophysiologie, Research Department of Neuroscience, Medizinische Fakultät der Ruhr-Universität, 44780 Bochum, Tel. +49 234 32 22042
Editor: Dr. Julia Weiler
Dr. Josef König | idw
Starting school boosts development
11.05.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung
New Master’s programme: University of Kaiserslautern educates experts in quantum technology
15.03.2017 | Technische Universität Kaiserslautern
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
17.10.2017 | Life Sciences
17.10.2017 | Life Sciences
17.10.2017 | Earth Sciences