Resume: Tuning a person’s brain wave cycle before they perform a learning task can dramatically improve the rate at which cognitive abilities improve.
Font: University of Cambridge
Scientists have shown for the first time that briefly tuning into a person’s individual brain wave cycle before performing a learning task dramatically increases the rate at which cognitive abilities improve.
Calibrating information delivery rates to match our brains’ natural rhythm increases our ability to absorb and adapt new information, according to the team behind the study.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge say these techniques could help us retain “neuroplasticity” much later in life and advance lifelong learning.
“Each brain has its own natural rhythm, generated by the oscillation of neurons working together,” said Professor Zoe Kourtzi, lead author of the study from Cambridge’s Department of Psychology. “We simulate these fluctuations so that the brain is in tune with itself and in the best state to flourish.”
“The plasticity of our brain is the ability to restructure and learn new things, continually building on previous patterns of neural interactions. By harnessing brain wave rhythms, it may be possible to enhance flexible learning throughout life, from infancy to adulthood,” Kourtzi said.
The findings, published in the journal Cerebral cortexwill be explored as part of the Center for Lifelong Learning and Individualized Cognition: A Research Collaboration between Cambridge and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.
Neuroscientists used electroencephalography, or EEG, sensors attached to the head to measure electrical activity in the brains of 80 study participants and sample brain wave rhythms.
The team took alpha wave readings. The mid-range of the brain wave spectrum, this wave frequency tends to dominate when we are awake and relaxed.
Alpha waves oscillate between eight and twelve hertz: one complete cycle every 85-125 milliseconds. However, each person has their own maximum alpha frequency within that range.
The scientists used these readings to create an optical “pulse”: a white square blinking on a dark background in time with each person’s individual alpha wave.
Participants were given a 1.5-second dose of personalized pulse to get their brains working at their natural pace, a technique called “training,” before being presented with a tricky, fast-paced cognitive task: trying to identify specific shapes within of a barrage of visual clutter. .
A brain wave cycle consists of a peak and a trough. Some participants received pulses that matched the peak of their waves, others the trough, while others got random beats or the wrong beat (slightly faster or slower). Each participant repeated more than 800 variations of the cognitive task, and the neuroscientists measured how quickly people improved.
The learning rate of those who were stuck in the right rhythm was at least three times faster than all other groups. When the participants returned the next day to complete another round of tasks, those who learned much faster under training maintained their highest level of performance.
“It was exciting to discover the specific conditions you need to get this impressive boost in learning,” said first author Dr Elizabeth Michael, now in Cambridge’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit.
“The intervention itself is very simple, just a brief flicker on a screen, but when we get the correct frequency plus the correct phase alignment, it seems to have a strong and long-lasting effect.”
Importantly, entrainment pulses must match the channel of a brain wave. Scientists believe this is the point in a cycle where neurons are in a state of “high receptivity.”
“We feel like we’re constantly attending to the world, but in fact our brains take quick snapshots and then our neurons talk to each other to piece the information together,” said co-author Professor Victoria Leong, from NTU and Cambridge’s Department of Pediatrics. .
“Our hypothesis is that by matching information delivery to the optimal phase of a brain wave, we maximize information capture because that is when our neurons are at the highest point of excitability.”
Previous work from Leong’s Baby-LINC lab shows that the brain waves of mothers and babies will synchronize when they communicate. Leong believes that the mechanism in this latest study is so effective because it mirrors the way we learn as babies.
“We are taking advantage of a mechanism that allows our brain to align itself with temporal stimuli in our environment, especially communicative cues such as speech, gaze, and gestures that are naturally exchanged during parent-infant interactions,” Leong said.
“When adults talk to young children, they adopt child-directed language, slow, exaggerated speech. This study suggests that child-directed speech may be a spontaneous way to speed match and train children’s slower brain waves to support learning.”
The researchers say that while the new study tested visual perception, these mechanisms are likely “domain general”: they apply to a wide range of tasks and situations, including auditory learning.
They argue that the potential applications for brainwave entrainment may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but they are increasingly feasible. “While our study used complex EEG machines, there are now simple headband systems that allow you to measure brain frequencies quite easily,” Kourtzi said.
“Children now do much of their learning in front of screens. One can imagine the use of brain wave rhythms to improve aspects of learning for children who have difficulty in regular classrooms, perhaps due to attention deficits.”
Other early applications of brain wave training to boost learning could involve training in professions where quick learning and quick decision-making are vital, such as pilots or surgeons. “Virtual reality simulations are now an effective part of training in many professions,” Kourtzi said.
“Implementing pulses that are synchronized with brain waves in these virtual environments could give new learners an advantage, or help those retraining later in life.”
About this learning research news
Author: fred lewsey
Font: University of Cambridge
Contact: Fred Lewsey – University of Cambridge
Picture: Image is credited to Cambridge University.
original research: Open access.
“Learning at the pace of your brain: individualized training drives learning for perceptual decisions” by Zoe Kourtzi et al. Cerebral cortex
Learning at the pace of your brain: individualized training drives learning for perceptual decisions
Training is known to improve our ability to make decisions when we interact in complex environments. However, people vary in their ability to learn new tasks and acquire new skills in different settings. Here, we test whether this variability in learning ability is related to oscillatory states of the individual brain.
We use a visual blink paradigm to bring people into their own brain rhythm (ie, maximum alpha frequency) as measured by resting-state electroencephalography (EEG). We show that this individual frequency-matched brain training results in faster learning on a visual identification task (i.e., detecting targets embedded in background clutter) compared to training that does not match an individual’s alpha frequency. .
Furthermore, we show that learning is specific to the phase relationship between the entrainment blink and the visual target stimulus. EEG during entrainment showed that individualized alpha entrainment increases alpha power, induces phase alignment in the pre-stimulus period, and results in a shorter latency of early visual evoked potentials, suggesting that entrainment facilitates early visual processing to support better perceptual decisions.
These findings suggest that individualized brain training may boost perceptual learning by altering gain control mechanisms in the visual cortex, indicating a key role for individual neural oscillatory states in learning and brain plasticity.
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