Daily Archives: July 30, 2008

Passive vs. active learning and brain activation

Science Daily reports on interesting research from a team at Darmouth:

It’s conventional wisdom that practice makes perfect. But if practicing only consists of watching, rather than doing, does that advance proficiency? Yes, according to a study by Dartmouth researchers. They determined that people can acquire motor skills through the “seeing” as well as the “doing” form of learning.

“It’s been established in previous research that there are correlations in behavioral performance between active and passive learning, but in this study we were surprised by the remarkable similarity in brain activation when our research participants observed dance sequences that were actively or passively experienced,” says Emily Cross, the principal investigator and PhD student at Dartmouth.

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Neuroimaging grief

Newsweek reports on imaging research which suggest not all forms of grief are alike:

In a paper in the journal Neuroimage, [Mary-Frances] O’Connor and her colleagues [at UCLA] describe using an fMRI machine to probe the neurological basis for complicated grief among a small sample of women who had lost a close relative to breast cancer. Ordinary grief is apparent on a brain scan: show a bereaved daughter a picture of her mother, and areas of the brain that process emotional pain are activated. The women with complicated grief showed that pattern, but something else as well: activity in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region associated with pleasure, rewards and addiction. “When the women came out of the scanner, the complicated-grief group rated themselves as feeling more negative than the others,” O’Connor said. “But they also said things like, ‘Oh, it was so nice to see my mom again.’ These are the ones who pore over picture albums, talk about the person all the time, almost as if she was still here.” The women in that situation were unconsciously prolonging their grief, she concluded, because memories of the person they missed gave them pleasure—as well as pain.