Showing posts with label episodic memory. Show all posts
Showing posts with label episodic memory. Show all posts

Monday, December 12, 2011

Learning from Exceptions in the Brain

There is a learning style that seems unmistakable in some - and it seems to involve learning from exceptions. These may be children who from a very young age seem to question rules and challenge assumptions. They're kids who if you try to tell them what to think, they may quickly answer, "Actually..."

This learning preference often goes hand-in-hand with novelty and inductive learning because discovering an exception means that you might have to rethink your rules and shuffle your categories. 'Exception' learners are often highly motivated by bizarre facts and incredible stories that might push the limits of what is known, what is done, or what might be possible.

Texas researchers now have shown that learning from exceptions comes from processes originating in the medial temporal lobes, an interesting area of the brain because it's also where episodic memory (memory for personally-experienced events or scenes) lives.

Learners who drive their episodic memory systems over rote (many dyslexics, for instance) prefer experiential learning, learning from exceptions, and reasoning back to simple principles.

The weakness of 'exception' learning is that it may cause one to doubt 'obvious' rules (over-interpreting multiple choice questions for instance) and create chaotic grade records (i.e. "I don't get it" (fail, fail, fail)" - "Oh, I get it." (success)). 'Exception' learners don't feel they understand something until they've had enough examples or data points. They need enough observations to see that a rule exists - but also enough exceptions to distinguish examples or conditions that don't fit with a rule.

The advantage of 'exception' thinking, though, is when you need to break the mold.  If you need a paradigm shift or completely different perspective on a problem, go to the rule breakers.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Different Ways We Think: Conceptual Thinking and the Brain

In this interesting paper that looks at how conceptual knowledge develops in the human brain during decision making, the hippocampus (along with ventromedial prefrontal cortex), an area well known for its importance in spatial navigation and long term memory, seem to play an important role with decision making about future conditions. The importance of the hippocampus was a bit of a surprise. On other studies of conceptual learning, individual differences in patterns of brain activation were noted for conceptual decision making tasks, but the differences were more commonly related to right and left prefrontal areas, and not the hippocampus.

The reason we found this interesting, is because not uncommonly we see very different conceptual thinking and memory styles among the students. A common pattern among our gifted dyslexic students who are strong spatial thinkers (high spatial reasoning, love to build, hands-on learners) is their preference for autobiographical / personal memory. They have vivid memories for personal experiences, but may need many repetitions for dry information that is master by rote repetition. From Maguire and colleagues: "our findings (with the hippocampus and vMPFC)...offer a fresh perspective on the intriguing question of why these brain regions are engaged during such a diverse range of tasks (e.g. spatial navigation, imagination, autobiographical memory, self-projection, fear extinction)." Hippocampal involvement may also account for why associational strategies for learning such as mnemonics seem to be such a valuable approach for rote learning among these students.

Perhaps other group (the not-strong spatial thinkers, for want of a better term) are more likely to use the more conventional left prefrontal pathway - when they recall information or make predictions, it is less rooted in personal or autobiographical memory, but more abstracted like algorithms or rules. It's this pathway that may be more optimized for quick processing and retrieval, whereas the former, could be best for decision-making under uncertainty and be richer by its wider associations.