Thursday, April 9, 2015

Neuroscience - brain associates sense from nonsense in learning new word forms

Take a look at these two words: HAPPINESS and SADNESS. They are supposed to be opposites. Some people have the latter and desire the former, or vice versa. What you’ve not yet been told is that your brain does not form visual images of those words, or any word, by taking them alphabet by alphabet, or by alphabet groups. Your brain forms images of any word, interesting or nonsense, meaningful or casual, based on its interpretation of the word as a complete whole.

Words are learned by visual imagery.
Credit: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr
Jerome Bruner, a well-known educational theorist, posited the theory that people learn based on three leaning modes: doing or enactive, image association or iconic, and by abstraction or symbolic mode of learning. Adults are associated more with abstract learning.

Well, in a ground breaking work published in the Journal of Neuroscience by Maximilian Riesenhuber, PhD, along with other authors, from the Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) Laboratory for Computational Cognitive Neuroscience, it can be established that abstract or symbolic learning of new words, whether nonsense or meaningful , occurs in the left side of the brain, what is called the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA) while at the right brain, a Fusiform Face Area (FFA) is associated with learning of new faces.

The Visual Word Form Area (VWFA) is selective in picking out words, especially new words. It can distinguish between sensible words like turf in contraposition to turt which is meaningless in English dictionaries. This selectivity demonstrates the plasticity of the brain. Before this, Stan Dehaene, has demonstrated that neurons at the VWFA distinguishes over case while other researchers have shown a division over font.

This study is instructive because it can be used to great use. Teachers who used to think that word recognition by children and adults could be enhanced by improving spelling would have to make a rethink, and also using partial word groupings would not help matters, especially for children with learning difficulties. New word learning and retention can best be enhanced by visual learning techniques.

The advertising industry is also wont to play with fonts, case, color and words of brands in order for consumers to retain the brand image. Better understanding of this information could help them in brand image marketing.

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