Posts Tagged Memory Systems

Stress Changes Learning in the Brain


Stress Changes Learning in the BrainA new experiment from German scientists suggests stress invokes our brain to use different and more complex processes during learning.

In the study, cognitive psychologists Drs. Lars Schwabe and Oliver Wolf discovered that the presence or absence of stress is associated with use of different brain regions and different strategies in the learning process.

Stress appears to make the brain work harder and use a more complex approach when learning. Study findings are reported in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Researchers discovered that non-stressed individuals applied a deliberate learning strategy, while stressed subjects relied more on their gut feeling.

“These results demonstrate for the first time that stress has an influence on which of the different memory systems the brain turns on,” said Schwabe.

In the study researchers analyzed the data from 59 subjects. Two groups were assigned with one group asked to immerse one hand into ice-cold water for three minutes (while being observed by video surveillance).

As expected, this activity stressed the subjects with data collected and confirmed by hormone assays.

The other group was asked to immerse one of their hands in warm water. Then both the stressed and non-stressed individuals completed a task called weather prediction. The task involved having subjects look at playing cards with different symbols and then using the cards to predict which combinations of cards forecast rain and which sunshine.

Each combination of cards was associated with a certain probability of good or bad weather. People apply differently complex strategies in order to master the task.

During the weather prediction task, the researchers recorded the brain activity with MRI.

Researchers found that both stressed and non-stressed subjects learned to predict the weather according to the symbols. However, the way in which they learned the task varied.

Non-stressed participants focused on individual symbols and not on combinations of symbols. They consciously pursued a simple strategy.

The MRI data showed that they activated a brain region in the medial temporal lobe – the hippocampus, which is important for long-term memory.

Stressed subjects, on the other hand, applied a more complex strategy.

They made their decisions based on the combination of symbols. They did this, however, subconsciously, i.e. they were not able to formulate their strategy in words.

In this group of stress participants, brain scans showed that the so-called striatum in the mid-brain was activated — a brain region that is responsible for more unconscious learning.

“Stress interferes with conscious, purposeful learning, which is dependent upon the hippocampus,” concluded Schwabe. “So that makes the brain use other resources. In the case of stress, the striatum controls behavior — which saves the learning achievement.”

Source: Ruhr-University Bochum

Abstract of the brain with key photo by shutterstock.

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Memory Connections Change from Childhood to Adulthood


Memory Connections Change from Childhood to AdulthoodIn a new area of study, researchers explore how brain mechanisms for memory retrieval differ between adults and children.

Neuroscientists from Wayne State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered that while the memory systems are the same in many ways, the aging process appears to impart important differences in how we learn and respond to education.

Noa Ofen, Ph.D., an assistant professor in WSU’s Institute of Gerontology and Department of Pediatrics, says that cognitive ability, including the ability to learn and remember new information, dramatically changes between childhood and adulthood.

This ability parallels with dramatic changes that occur in the structure and function of the brain during these periods.

In the study, Ofen and her collaborative team tested the development of neural foundations of memory from childhood to young adulthood.

Researchers did this by exposing participants to pictures of scenes and then showing them the same scenes mixed with new ones. They then and asked them to judge whether each picture was presented earlier.

Participants made retrieval judgments while researchers collected images of their brains with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Using this method, the researchers were able to see how the brain remembers. “Our results suggest that cortical regions related to attentional or strategic control show the greatest developmental changes for memory retrieval,” said Ofen.

This finding suggests that older participants use the cortical regions of the brain to retrieve past memories more so than younger participants.

“We were interested to see whether there are changes in the connectivity of regions in the brain that support memory retrieval,” Ofen added.

“We found changes in connectivity of memory-related regions. In particular, the developmental change in connectivity between regions was profound even without a developmental change in the recruitment of those regions, suggesting that functional brain connectivity is an important aspect of developmental changes in the brain.”

Researchers say this study is unique as it is the first time that the development of connectivity within memory systems in the brain has been tested.

Findings suggest the brain continues to rearrange connections to achieve adult-like performance during development.

Future studies by Ofen and her research team will focus on modeling brain network connectivity, and applying these methods to study abnormal brain development.

The team’s findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: Wayne State University

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