Scientists have researched how newly learned concepts form in the human brain by visualizing how new information gets filed. For the first time science has visually witnessed how and where the exact matter is coded inside the brain.
At Carnegie Mellon University researchers deduced to see what people were thinking about and how different new knowledge is stored and how combinations of different pieces of this fresh information affect different parts of the brain. The associated research is available in the journal Human Brain Mapping.
The scientists found that each individual had a specific 'brain activation signature' through Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI). It is an indication of the neural activity for the different animals.
Therefore, each person had specific 'habitat' regions in the brain that stored new information about where the animals lived and dedicated 'diet regions' where the newly learned knowledge about animal’s diet was stored.
Scientists used FMRI images to find out what animal each person was thinking about at any given time.
Neuroscientist “Marcel Just” used the example of the 2013 discovery of an “olinguito” which is a small South American carnivorous mammal. Those learning about the animal were able to immediately pickup new information for the first time, such as its habitat, diet, behavior, etc. Just explained “Millions of people read the information about the olinguito and by doing that they permanently change their own brains.”
When people came to know that the olinguito eats mainly fruit instead of meat, a region of their left inferior frontal gyrus- as well as several other areas—stored the new information according to its own code.
Just's paper also concluded that our brains all use a similar 'filing system' to process new information.
Just, PhD student and lead author Andrew Bauer gathered 16 study participants and examined their brain activity while teaching them new information about eight extinct species of animals. They observed the emergence of new concepts in their brains by using an MRI machine, as the hour-long ingestion of new information progressed.
The research which was earlier conducted in the field of brain imaging helped the team to understand more clearly from where certain bits of information would come up, such as animal’s habitat or its dietary habits. Each category illuminates a different part of the brain.
According to Just, “The activation signature of a concept is a combination of the different types of knowledge of the concept that a person has stored, and each type of knowledge is stored in its own characteristic set of regions.”
The team had a deeper knowledge of how the brain manages information. For example, new information does not obscure something learned five minutes ago. Instead, “Each time we learn something, we permanently change our brains in a systematic way,” Bauer explains.
While conducting the research, Carnegie Mellon merged two major research areas at the university. One deals with studying how brain architecture gives rise to complex behaviors and one dealing with increasing the effectiveness of student learning.
Just and Bauer claim that their results will be able to help develop more effective ways of teaching complicated subjects in school as well as shed light on how to reverse the loss of knowledge that accompanies disorders such as Alzheimer and dementia.