Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Amygdala and Aha! Moments

Practicing to Learn was a reflective response to the following study I read on the amygdala.

The amygdala in the brain is not commonly associated with learning, rather it's primary role has been understood as the center of processing and memory of emotions.

However, a study done at New York University revealed otherwise. It appears that the amygdala plays a profound role in the metaphorical light bulb which shines in the moment of sudden "Aha!" insight.
"'Our results demonstrate, for the first time, that the amygdala is important for creating long-term memories - not only when the information learned is explicitly emotional, but also when there is a sudden reorganization of information in our brain, for example, involving a sudden shift in perception,' says Ludmer. 'It might somehow evaluate the event, 'deciding' whether it is significant and therefore worthy of preservation.'" (via Physorg)
This understanding of Aha! moments, being a sudden reorganization of information in the brain that effectively creates long-term memories, resonates with how I understand my own growth in learning. After that pivotal event, school became less about rote memorization of facts and more about a steady stream of Aha! moments.

That's not to say each and every class, every single day becomes a euphoric experience of joyful learning. The human condition is far too complicated and messy for it to be that simple. Though I did notice the craft of a good teacher became more apparent and appreciated. And inversely, my predisposed interest in a subject became much less important to how much value I found in a class. 
The following is my big take away from this study:
  • If new information doesn't reorganize existing information, it won't have a place.
  • If new information doesn't have a place, it won't be remembered.
  • And if new information isn't remembered, it will never have potential to be applied.

Going forward, I'll be thinking a lot about how to create opportunities for Aha! moments with children. 

If we can equip an individual to pursue Aha! moments within the context of life, school becomes simultaneously meaningful and peripheral (not a means to an end, but a meaningful, appreciated, and valuable opportunity for growth in and of itself).


Anna said...

.... Then how would babies gather new information, if they didn't retain information unless it rearranged old information (which they don't have yet)?

Aha moments certainly make things more memorable, yes. If that's the take-away that you're trying to go for, then go for it. But your three-point syllogism seems a bit strained.

DK said...

I definitely think there are lower and higher levels of gathering and processing information. To be sure, life isn't ALL Aha moments.

Obviously there is a very basic function of gathering "raw resource", otherwise your right, there is nothing to reorganize new information into. I would say this is the majority of what is happening until maybe 2nd or 3rd grade? And I don't think this lower level of information gathering should stop... ever.

But Aha moments seem to be a very important part of higher level learning, and that's what I'm getting at with the syllogism.

I'm still getting to my analogy post... haha, thanks for hanging in there.

I hope you find these posts stimulating. :) Your responses really help me to think through my thoughts more clearly.

Madicap said...

I just wanted to say that if you ever run out of reading material and would like more studies on learning and memory / information processing of the brain, I'd be happy to share some of the studies that I've found interesting. :) (I'm very bad with the philosophical side of things and relating the technical details to the more practical topics, though)

Great blog, by the way... What you write about and how you write about it are both very interesting.

- Madison

DK said...

Madison!? My cousin Madison! How exciting! :)

I'm very interested in your recommendations. Are these books or articles online? Either way, could you send me some of your favorites?

On a side note, do you remember going to the Museum of Science and Industry together? Would of it been in Florida? I can't remember, I think we were about 6 or 7.

Thanks for stopping by!

Madicap said...

Yes! I remember going... there were a pair of lungs of a smoker, a giant heart you could walk through, and some kind of ride/exhibit about mining? I think it was in Chicago, actually.

Sorry I'm being slow with the reading suggestions. I promise I'll get to them soon :)

DK said...

Wow, you have a better memory then me! All I remember was the plastic molded subarmine I got made. :)

I thought it was Chicago originally but decided against it because I couldn't figure out why both of our families would be in Chicago at the same time. The only time I remember being in the midwest was visiting my dads side of the family.

I was going to look you up on Facebook and bug you about the articles. ;)