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Brain Mechanisms of Learning and Memory

During his visit to the NEPS in Bamberg on May 15, 2012, Prof. Dr. Henning Scheich from  the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology in Magdeburg delivered a guest lecture about “Brain Mechanisms of Learning and Education”, which gave the audience some understanding of brain research. Among the topics featured in his presentation were the processing of acoustic information and speech, the alteration of neural cells and synapses and learning processes.

“In order to provide the best incentives for learning, we first need to get a better understanding about the brain, its mechanisms and its functional areas ”, explained Prof. Dr. Henning Scheich, head of the department “Auditory Learning and Speech” at the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology in Magdeburg. For this reason, at the beginning of his lecture Prof. Scheich elaborated on the different sections of the brain which are activated when speaking, generating, seeing and listening to words. Afterwards, he illustrated how neural cells start to connect with each other from birth onwards by creating contact points, namely synapses. He explained that these cannot be renewed at an older age, but they may well shrink or enlarge. Contrary to popular belief, healthy human beings only  lose few neural cells with increasing age. However, synapses do shrivel through inactivity.

According to Prof. Scheich, learning processes made until puberty result in the saving of information and, simultaneously, in the structuring of the still incompletely developed brain, that is, abilities which are ready to be improved later in life. Learning processes in the not yet completely developed brain benefit most from a defined social context like the family or peer groups (friends). A sense of achievement within a social context is the most important motivating factor for learning during childhood and the teenage years. Yet, also later on in life motivation remains the main criterion for whether information is saved in the long-term or short-term memory. Dopamine is very important for this process. The more dopamine is available, the more easily and quicker learning processes can be made. Hence, the better the mood in which a person learns and the more motivated this person is, the easier information can be saved in the long-term memory. Prof. Scheich,the medical scientist and zoologist, therefore pointed out that the feeling of success which can be achieved by bothimmediate progress and by overcoming initial problems during the process of learning is hugely important. In school, for example, teachers are called for who like their job and who enjoy their subject in order to be able to motivate their pupils and afford them feelings of success.  

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