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Study reveals the importance of ignoring distraction while learning

“Consequently, the brain becomes persistently more effective at suppressing noisy inputs and more consistently effective at enhancing the inputs that matter.”

SNS | New Delhi |

Cognitive training is designed in order to focus on what is important. Brain’s information processing can be enhanced by the same, enabling the ability to ‘learn to learn, finds a new study on mice.

According to Andre Fenton, a professor of neural science at New York University and the senior author of the study, which appears in the journal Nature, “As any educator knows, merely recollecting the information we learn in school is hardly the point of an education”. He further added, “Rather than using our brains to merely store information to recall later, with the right mental training, we can also ‘learn to learn,’ which makes us more adaptive, mindful, and intelligent.”

The machinations of memory have been studied by the researchers several times that the information gained from experience is being stored by the neurons so that the same can be recalled later.

The mechanism our brains undergo to go beyond drawing memory to use the past experience in a meaningful way is the underlying neurobiology of how we ‘learn to learn’. Understanding this process would fetch new methods of learning to enhance the same, designing cognitive-behavioral therapies for disorders like schizophrenia, anxiety, and other neuropsychiatric illness.

In order to explore more on it, the researchers undertook an array of experiments with the help of mice, who were assessed by their ability to absorb cognitively challenging tasks. Before the assessment took place, few of the mice received “cognitive control training” (CCT).

Putting on a rotating floor and trained to get off the stationary location of a mild shock using visual cues while avoiding the locations of the shock on the arena. After the comparison between CCT mice and the control mice, it is noted that the control group didn’t have to ignore irrelevant rotation locations despite learning the same place avoidance.

It was noted by the scientists that it was essential to experiment with the place avoidance methodology since it manipulates local information dissociating the environment into rotating and stationary components.

In previous days, the lab depicted that learning to ignore shock on the rotating floor requires using the brain’s memory, the hippocampus, and the navigation center beside persisting activity of a molecule (protein kinase M zeta [PKM?]), which is crucial for maintaining, enhances the strength of neuronal connections and to store long-term memory.

Fenton explains, “In short, there were molecular, physiological, and behavioral reasons to examine long-term place avoidance memory in the hippocampus circuit as well as a theory for how the circuit could persistently improve”.

According to the analysis of the neural activity in the hippocampus during the CCT, relevant information was used by the mice to avoid shock and ignore the distractions due to the rotation in the vicinity of the shock.

The experiment was important for the mice learning to learn rather than the mice that did not receive CCT because it allowed the ‘learn to learn’ mice to do novel cognitive better than the other one. Notably, it could also be measured by the researchers that CCT can also improve the hippocampal neural circuitry functions of the mice to process information.

Hippocampus is an important part of the brain to form memories that are long-lasting besides spatial navigation, and CCT improved the operations for months.

“The study shows that two hours of cognitive control training causes learning to learn in mice and that learning to learn is accompanied by improved tuning of a key brain circuit for memory,” observes Fenton. “Consequently, the brain becomes persistently more effective at suppressing noisy inputs and more consistently effective at enhancing the inputs that matter.”

Other authors of the paper were: Ain Chung and Eliott Levy, NYU doctoral students at the time of the research; Claudia Jou a doctoral student at the City University of New York’s Hunter College and the Graduate Center; Alejandro Grau-Perales and Dino Dvorak, NYU postdoctoral fellows at the time of the study; and Nida Hussain, a student at NYU’s College of Arts and Science at the time of the study.