What’s New?

Time is of the essence – is a legal term meaning if we agree on a date to close, pay or complete, failure to meet the time stated can have lethal financial consequences. Let’s round out 2007 with some new research to internalize and implement. Call it time-is-of-the-essence knowledge for ’08.

1. Learning is a solitary activity – multitasking absolutely, positively

distracts from the learning process, and reduces memory retrieval in the future

Listening to music when reading text, stopping to engage in conversation, walking

to the refrigerator for an apple, all break your train of thought and disrupt learning. There appears to be no type of music (classical Bach included) that helps learning.

If you use the school library, a buzz of giggling puts your hippocampus

out of sync and your memory is impeded.

The hippocampus is a sea-horse shaped brain structure to process, store and

retrieve information. When you’re trying to remember the name of that weird

looking car and find it in the dictionary as Zimmer, from the German for lobster,

recalling it the next day is the job description of your hippocampus.

All declarative memory – facts, dates, names and events – anything that can be

consciously discussed – is broken and disrupted by multitasking. Multi-tasking

causes automatic distractions from learning and memory.

Get this – when you are learning and get distracted, your hippocampus gets disconnected. No hippocampus, no long-term memory. If you are satisfied with

only up to 50% of what you study going into permanent memory, and losing the rest, multi-tasking is recommended.

Multi-tasking causes deterioration in learning facts and ideas. Learning skills like riding a bike, touch-typing, swimming and playing a musical instrument, are not

affected by multi-tasking (distractions) because they rely on the brain’s striatum

for how-to skills – not the hippocampus. It is called procedural memory.

We like music, it make you feel energized and alert, just not when you are

learning new information, ideas and principles. It disconnects your hippocampus

and deletes learning and memory.

The tougher the material, like learning Shakespeare and Quantum Physics, the more multi-tasking adversely affects your results. Directed-Willful-Effort to learn is the exercise of an intention (motivation) to remember, and requires 100% of your attention.

Dr. Russell Poldrack, UCLA, published by National Academy of Sciences.

2. Pairing Sight and Sound Speeds up Learning Visual Tasks.

When you combine more than one primary sense, you improve perceptual learning.

Example: Listening to an instructor on audio is not as memorable as listening and seeing him/her in person. In studying, seeing, hearing and note taking, uses your three power senses, vision-auditory-kinesthetic (sense of touch).

When you read text you see the letters, words and sentences, and hear the words

in your mind, and in taking notes, involve your sense of touch by your fingers

writing words.

This triple-play improves learning and long-term memory up to 50%,

compared to using only one of your senses. If you want speedier learning

of visual information, noticing the differences between similar objects or

finding specific objects in a cluttered environment, utilize more of your five senses.

Old neuroscience believed each of our gross and fine five-senses operated as

independent systems. Delete and replace. Fact: vision-hearing-touch-smell and taste are interconnected circuitry. Your brain processes sensory information and

perceives data better with the buddy-system – working as a team.

Comparing the use of a single sense to learn, or the use of two or more senses in combination, always choose multi-sensory processing. The use of multiple senses to learn in this research, accomplished in three days what took single-sense learners ten-days. The rates of retention were 66% better when multiple senses were used.

Conclusion: multi-sensory training strategies are better, faster and

remain in long-term memory. Science previously believed the ability to perceive motion was fixed and unchangeable, this research indicates visual learning can

be improved by adding the use of other senses to complement your strategy.

Current Biology 8.16.06; Aaron Seitz at Boston University joined

with researchers at UCLA.

3. If you are going to remember only one new neuroscientific research from

2007, let it be Learning and the Basal Ganglia.

Definition: basal ganglia is a group of nuclei located at the base of your brain,

interconnected with the cerebral cortex, thalamus, brainstem, emotions and

learning. It gets input from your prefrontal and motor cortices, and is located

in the Central Nervous System. It is housed in both left and right hemispheres.

Profound Fact: many human behaviors, including some types of learning and memory are reflexes programmed into our brains and not learned consciously.

Your basal-ganglia-dopamine system is a learning machine based on reward and punishment. We choose certain behaviors because we automatically (reflex) remember a prior reward or punishment. If you remember B.F. Skinner at Harvard and his Operant Conditioning, he was right, and it is based on Basal Ganglia Dopamine.

We often use trial-and-error as a learning tool and receive positive or negative feedback. This result produces long-term learning, and good and bad habits.

Remember this: your brain is programmed to reinforce actions (behaviors)

that are immediately followed by rewards. Aha! Especially when the reward is

unexpected. Example of rewards are: a smile, verbal compliment, money, promotion, and just being correct in a cognitive task.

There are concrete and abstract rewards and both programs (condition) our learning. We are least aware of our primitive reinforcement learning system

located in the basal ganglia.


Dopamine is a neurotransmitter located in the basal ganglia. It activates in

bursts and dips to fire changes in the strength of your synaptic connections.

Basal-Ganglia-Dopamine neurons are critical for humans in learning about the consequences of our actions.

Our brain often acts on the basis of what we have learned (feedback) from previous

reward or punishment. These programmed reflexes are often the basis of our knowledge and decision-making. But your prefrontal cortex (executive functions) can override the decisions of basal-ganglia-dopamine – the reward neurotransmitter system.

The key brain circuit for learning and memory is the basal-ganglia-dopamine and

the frontal cortex. The neurotransmitter dopamine is critical in the basal ganglia

determining (using experience) which frontal cortex plans are adaptive (useful) or not. Remember – synaptic changes (connections) are the neural basis for learning.

Endwords: If you can read and remember three (3) books, articles and reports when

your competitors can hardly complete one, are you better prepared for the Knowledge Economy and to thwart information-overload? Ask us how.

See ya,

copyright © 2007 H. Bernard Wechsler

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