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Finding How the Brain Learns Technical Concepts


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Have you ever wondered about the cognitive processes behind learning? Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have, and now they have some answers as they have recently watched how the brain behaves while learning about different mechanical systems. Such information could help improve science instruction and possibly more.

To perform the study, the researchers scanned the brains of 16 adults while they learned, for the first time, how four mechanical systems work. This instruction came by way of a series of images, diagrams, and text, and covered how a bathroom scale, fire extinguisher, car brakes, and a trumpet works. To the researchers' surprise, there were different stages to the brain activity during the process. As the explanations began visually, those regions of the brain are what activated in the first stage, but then other parts lit up when the subjects were mentally visualizing how the system works, and the causal chain. At the end, regions of the brain involved with imagining how a person would interact with the system were active.

The researchers also found that when the people learned that both fire extinguishers and car brakes utilize force being exerted on a fluid, the brain would represent the two very different systems similarly. This suggests how the brain can gain a fundamental understanding of things, at a deep level, which could be useful to teach to.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

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