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Theory of Learning Neurophysiologic, Research Paper Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1092

Research Paper

Neurophysiology is essentially the study of the function of the human nervous system. Learning, on the other hand, is described as a relatively permanent change in behavior which occurs as a result of practice or experience (Schultz, 2006). Psychologists who study the effects of learning on neurophysiology, therefore, seek to understand the actual physical changes that occur in the brain and central nervous system when new stimuli and information is learned. Neurophysiologists generally use tools such as physiological recordings through MRIs, calcium imaging, and other brain mapping technologies. These scientists seek to understand learning’s effects on the brain and spinal cord, and each of their multiple components.

Major Principles

Any learning task requires an organism that perceives a stimulus, reacts to it, and then modifies its behavior to adjust to the stimulus (Kupfermann, 1975). Researchers know that the central nervous system has a high degree of plasticisty, or the ability to adjust, react, and modify itself to meet increased or changed environmental demands. Therefore, one of the key principles of neurophysiology and learning is the cellular mechanism driving neuronal plasticity. Second, scientists are interested in studying the arousal level of various components of the central nervous system with response to novel learning situations. The degree of arousal of a particular area of the brain or spinal cord indicates that this region is largely responsible for directing a particular behavior. Finally, researchers are interested in the timing, as well as the connection, of the learning and reaction to a particular stimulus. Timing and mediating processes can indicate how different nerve fibers conduct impulses within the brain.

Theorists

The most important figure in the history of neurophysiology and learning was the Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov (Schultz, 2006). Pavlov first discovered that dogs began to salivate after associating the sound of a bell with the stimulus of receiving food. Pavlov concluded that organisms must learn via association, a process that likely takes place due to physical rewiring in the brain. Secondly, Thorndike discovered the Law of Effect, in which a reward increases the frequency and intensity of an act that resulted in a prior reward. In other words, the organism will do more of the same behavior in order to obtain a previously met reward. More recent physiology literature has emphasized the specific neurons and brain structures involved in response to learning, particularly in animals. For example, Critchley and Rolls discovered that reward responses are predominantly governed by the orbitofrontal cortex (Schultz, 1975).

Explanation of Mental Processes

It is now well-documented that learning is a result of numerous environmental, behavioral, and physiological influences (Garger, 1990). However, neurophysiologists believe that learning ultimately boils down to the physics and chemistry within the brain and spinal cord based on real-life experience with particular stimuli. For example, in Pavlov’s classic experiment, dogs “learned” to salivate at the sound of a bell or the scent of food due to increased dopamine levels in their brains following enjoyable eating experiences. Neurophysiologists also now understand the role of motivation with respect to learning, as well as the valence of the reward, the expected value, the magnitude, and how each of these factors heightens learning.

How People Learn

People learn very similarly to the dogs in Pavlov’s experiment (Thompson, Patterson, & Teyler, 1972). Prior positive experiences result in chemical and physical changes in the brain that increase the likelihood of the person wanting to obtain a particular reward. Experience enables the brain to make more neuronal associations, decreased stimulus-response times, and a more clear stimulus-reward connection.

Application

Interestingly, neurophysiologists emphasize that learning is not permanent (Schultz, 2006; Thompson, Patterson, & Teyler, 1972). It is relatively permanent. Learning is essentially a product of activity, and anything can be both learned or unlearned over time. The more you perform an action, the more you learn about it, according to neurophysiologists. Memory is a quality that is primarily related to the hippocampus, while the learning of the activity is controlled by the parietal lobe. These areas have a great capacity for learning, and the motivation driving the brain that performs the function can increase arousal, which is crucial to effective learning. However, the idea of forgetting can occur just as easily. Forgetting occurs due to inactivity, due to stimulus interference, or as a process of repression.

Settings

Within a school setting, teachers should understand that practice makes permanence. The more experience each student has with a new subject, the easier it will be for him or her to learn. Second, teachers should understand the role of arousal and motivation. When students enjoy a subject or perceive great rewards, they are likely to be more motivated and arousal levels will be higher, thereby increasing learning. Finally, teachers must understand the role of forgetting, and continue to challenge students on previously-learned stimuli. Business leaders can also apply these principles by increasing rewards associated with positive work performance, continual experience with more difficult work tasks, and continuing to place workers on challenging tasks that they have already mastered. Doctors can use these principles to teach disabled individuals to walk, perform fine motor tasks, or to keep taking medications.

Bibliography

Garger, S. (1990). Is there a link between learning style and neurophysiology? Educational Leadership, 63-65.

Garger’s article analyzes and presents findings from recent studies concerning hyperactive children. According to his researcher, students’ preferences for audio, kinesthetic, and visual stimuli influence their learning. Furthermore, these     preferences are dictated by the chemistry and physiology of their central nervous systems.

Kupfermann, I. (1975). Neurophysiology of learning. Annual Review of Psychology, 26:1, 237-253.

In this seminal article on the fundamentals of neurophysiology and learning, Kupfermann outlines the history of neurophysiology, the major principles and discoveries that have driven the field, and the major theorists involved.       Kupfermann presents the latest research and theoretical underpinnings regarding the effect of neurophysiology and learning, and discusses future research directions.

Schultz, W. (2006). Behavioral theories and the neurophysiology of reward. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 87-115.

This article presents many of the major theories regarding neurophysiology, with a heavy emphasis on the effects of rewards. Drawing on Pavlov’s classic experiment with dogs, Schultz presents a history of the research regarding the effects of rewards on learning, including motivation, magnitude, intensity, and more.

Thompson, R. F., Patterson, M. M., & Teyler, T. J. (1972). The neurophysiology of learning. Annual Review of Psychology, 23, 73-104.

This classic article, funded by the National Institute of Health, describes two major research strategies employed in neurophysiology and the neural correlates of learning. These authors present research regarding animal and human models for neurophysiologic learning, resulting from a request to hundreds of scientists to deliver their thoughts on the major components of learning.

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