Learning makes you happy

Suitable for the topic of educational toys
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That tts Knowledge Transfer Forums 2011 was under the motto of the event "What Hänschen does not learn ...". Does Hans really learn easier than Hans, or isn't it the case that Hans learns completely differently? Using numerous examples, Prof. Dr. Manfred Spitzer in his keynote lecture on how the human brain works and what influence it has on it To learn Has.

  • How do we learn
  • When do we learn and why do we learn?
  • What are good framework conditions for our learning?

The very first example made it clear that Prof. Spitzer likes to lure his audience out of reserve with provocative theses. For this purpose, he showed a picture of three brains that showed astonishing deviations from a normal brain, because they lacked large parts of the brain mass.

“The joke about this example is,” commented the brain researcher: “These three people are clinically normal.” Normal! That seemed quite astonishing, because in the first case - a young girl - half of the brain was removed at the age of three. The reason for this was a life-threatening illness. Four years later, despite the operation, no impairment of the girl's brain performance was found.

She had learned to cope with life with one hemisphere of the brain and although the part where the language center is located has been removed, the child speaks two languages fluently. "If you without The language center can speak two languages, "asked Prof. Spitzer," what can you do then with? ”The audience responded with a laugh.

The other two examples showed that here too the brain is largely absent, but both the truck driver and the French official are clinically normal. The brain can even cope with a small amount of brain matter. "If something like that works, why are 20 percent of" normal "people unable to graduate from school?" Asked the brain researcher. “That is probably not because of the people, but because of the school,” concluded Spitzer and moved on to the next example.

How does our brain learn?

Using several images of nerve cells, Spitzer explained the basic functions of the brain. “Synapses, neurons, neurotransmitters. Today every high school student learns how the process in the nervous system works, ”says the brain researcher. "What is interesting, however, is what these students do not learn: namely, what the whole thing is supposed to be."

It is particularly exciting why synapses are needed or why the electrical impulse in synapses is transmitted chemically. A human being has a trillion synapses in his brain. A 1 with 15 zeros - an incredible number. “In view of this mass of synapses, it must be permissible to ask why these components of a nerve cell exist,” provoked the brain researcher with a wink.

The next figure shows synapses that were photographed using an electron microscope. This is the answer to the previous question: The more frequently a synapse is used - i.e. an impulse is transmitted by it - the more its shape changes. This process was suspected 100 years ago, today the process and its result can be demonstrated graphically.

Is our brain a hard drive?

What does this knowledge mean in connection with the ability of a brain to learn? The next research example showed that the synapses of a brain change particularly strongly while the brain is learning. Many studies have been done on this. These show that learning is based on the fact that connections between nerve cells change.

“That is exactly what learning is,” says the brain researcher. An important conclusion from this finding is that the brain is not capable of memorizing details. "We are not designed for fact-learning," emphasized Spitzer. "Your brain is not a hard drive, a cassette or video recorder."

So much for the bad news. But the brain researcher also had a good one: “Your brain is better than a hard drive!” Manfred Spitzer explained why this is so using another example: namely, how a baby learns to walk. At first glance, learning to walk seems like a simple process. But the complexity of this learning process becomes clear when researchers try to teach a robot to walk on two legs.

By then, at the latest, it will become clear how much work has gone into this learning process. In the baby, the brain does this work. The baby pulls itself up and plops, pulls itself up and plops - all the time. The little one practices for weeks without giving up, until it finally works. "I don't know any baby that after two months thought, 'I'll throw it now,' that's too exhausting for me," "laughed Spitzer.

If the brain were to store facts, the process would be different. "So how does a baby learn to walk?" The medic asked the group. "Quite simply: on a case-by-case basis". What sounds funny is absolutely serious in the learning process. Because on the basis of the individual cases, connections are recognized and mapped by the brain. It is very important to realize that this process takes place on its own. The brain cannot help but learn.

Learning the language works on the same principle. Experiments have shown that babies learn the grammar of their mother tongue from the age of seven months. In order for a child to be able to go to school at the age of six, it is even essential that the learning process begins so early.

For the layman, however, it is astonishing that children, like adults, apply grammar rules correctly without being able to actively formulate them. The brain researcher provided the proof for this theory immediately by doing a little thought experiment with the audience.

The content of the experiment was the rule formulated by Spitzer himself that verbs that end in “–ieren” should not be inflected in the participle by a “- ”at the beginning of the word. Without thinking about it, the audience correctly applied this rule to artificial words “intuitive”. "Your brain masters this rule," said the brain researcher, explaining the successful attempt. “Your brain is always learning rules - whether you know it or not. The brain can't help it: it's its job. This is exactly why we have one trillion synapses. ”So the brain is always learning. But children don't always learn what adults or teachers want.

Learning leaves its mark on the brain - good and bad

According to recent studies, frequent and intensive use or the simultaneous use of different media is detrimental to the learning ability of the brain. "Above all, multitasking promotes one thing: inattentiveness," says Spitzer. The average screen usage of 5.5 to 6.5 hours per day in Germany is also cause for concern from Prof. Spitzer's point of view, because he believes that we “litter” our brains with it, which has long-term consequences for our society and Economy can have.

In view of the findings from brain research, he warned against increasing media use, especially in class. The reason for this warning is the knowledge of neurology that experiences leave “traces” in our brain. "We have known since 2003 that things are going particularly well on the 'beaten track'," explained Spitzer.

“A trail is not taken because it is the best solution to a problem, but because it already exists.” This insight leads to the conclusion that it is much easier not to get used to a bad habit in the first place than to get used to it again. On the other hand, laying a new track - that is, learning and thinking - is really time-consuming.

Networking is everything - or how math is related to the fingers

The basis for successful learning is the networking of the various units in the brain. For this neurological finding, Manfred Spitzer cited various cases that prove that the brain functions in a network. For example, vision and motor skills are closely linked, which is why test subjects initially open their fingers wider to grasp a wooden block marked with the number eight than to grasp the block with the number two - after all, eight is greater than two.

The connection between finger games and mathematical skills can be seen even better. Most people learn to count with the help of their fingers. The international consensus is to count to ten with two hands. The only exception are the Chinese, who can count to ten on one hand and only need the second hand from eleven. The change of hands has an impact on the speed of arithmetic. Experiments show that the larger the number, the longer it takes to calculate.

The link between finger motor skills and mathematics can also be observed in stroke patients: whenever patients have difficulty moving their fingers after a stroke, their arithmetic is also limited. Another finding: the more finger games a child plays in kindergarten, the better it will be in mathematics later on. "So if you want your child to be good at IT later, they shouldn't have a laptop in kindergarten," warned the doctor.

Prof. Spitzer's team investigated this fundamental relationship between motor skills and vision in their own study. The result was that the networking of the two brain regions, which are responsible for vision and motor skills, has a blatant influence on the speed of thinking. The reason for this is that both brain regions each make up a third of the brain.

If a test person learns to activate their visual and motor skills at the same time, then two-thirds of their brains work when thinking. "So it depends on the type of training how you can deal with a situation afterwards," is how the brain researcher summed up the course content. "So it doesn't matter whether your children in kindergarten experience the world with a click of the mouse or literally understand it through their motor skills."

It is not least because of this fact that family businesses, for example, are increasingly moving to start “personnel development” in their own company kindergarten. The use of computers should be avoided as much as possible, because computers do the thinking for the learner. But if you don't have to exert yourself, you will learn less and will later be slower in your thinking.

No studies are currently available on the positive effect of the use of computers on the learning behavior of students. There are a lot of studies on how the living environment affects the development of the child's IQ. For example, adoption studies show that the level of the family's socio-economic status has an impact on the level of the IQ.

In addition, the level of education of the person who primarily looks after the child makes a big difference. "The effect of a good kindergarten on education is about as great as the effect of smoking on lung cancer - very high," emphasized the brain researcher. Investing more money in education is therefore an absolute necessity for Manfred Spitzer.

Hans and Hänschen

But what about learning from Hans and Hänschen? First of all, you have to know that synapses change in the course of life. As a result, ten-year-olds learn very quickly, while things quickly go downhill afterwards. Even 17-year-olds learn much more slowly. The learning curve is steepest in kindergarten or day-care center, but it decreases further and further at school and later in work.

One more reason for the brain researcher to invest money primarily in early childhood education. “The brain is not a normal, but a paradoxical shoe box,” says Manfred Spitzer. “The more there is in it, the more it fits in!” That is why an adult learns very differently than a child. For example, if an adult can already speak five languages, "Hans" learns the sixth language faster than "Hans".

But if the adult can only learn one language and should learn another, Hänschen is much faster than Hans in comparison. "If you haven't learned anything at the age of 20, you won't learn anything in the future either," provoked the brain researcher with a wink. "Lifelong learning must therefore start in kindergarten and school."

The role of emotions in learning

Emotions have a huge impact on that Learning behavior. In the case of fear, the function of the so-called almond kernel is crucial for the type of reaction. Using the example of a snake that a walker encounters in the forest, Manfred Spitzer explained the reaction sequence: The walker perceives via the organ of vision that a snake is lying in front of him on the path.

But before the walker actually knows what he is seeing, the almond kernel has already recognized the danger and initiated appropriate reactions. The almond kernel ensures that lateral thinking is not addressed, but a simple reaction, namely “running away”, which ensures survival. In other contexts this process is called "blockade".

Learning with fear blocks the creative finding of solutions, which is why this should be prevented in class or in training. As an example, the brain researcher cited mathematics as a so-called fear subject in school.

A connection between the ability to think and colors has also been proven, since humans associate certain emotions with colors, such as the danger and signal color red. It hinders the finding of creative solutions. The reason for this is again the almond kernel, which is activated when it is red because it suspects a dangerous situation and thus prevents creative thinking. A conclusion can therefore be that one should be less anxious when doing creative tasks, while feeling anxious when troubleshooting, as this has been shown to lead to more precise work.

Learning makes you happy

At the end of his exciting lecture, the neuroscientist reported on the effects of positive emotions on learning. The so-called happiness center is responsible for positive feelings. If it is activated, various substances, including a large amount of dopamine, are released, which in turn accelerates learning processes.

“So when your happiness center kicks in, you learn particularly quickly,” says Spitzer. But the happiness center only kicks in when something positive happens that the person does not yet know. "So what is activated is not your center of happiness, but your learning center," the doctor explained to the audience. “However, long-term happiness is not possible.” The best example is the shopping experience that is popular in our society.

Experts call it the "hedonistic treadmill" because people are always shopping because they want to be happy. However, according to various experiments, the feeling of happiness does not last longer than ten seconds, because the happiness is already over during the purchase process. Nevertheless, the following applies: “Deep in our brain, happiness and learning are closely linked”, Prof. Spitzer concluded his lecture. "Long-term happiness is not possible, but happiness is always possible, and you can achieve that through learning."

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