Understanding Neuroscience to Increase Learning Behaviors

Introduction

Our brains are the most mutable parts of our bodies, and we can augment our brains by the way we use them each day. A strong memory is vital to an individual’s learning, therefore this paper will pay close attention to the neurological components of memory as well as other factors related to motivation and emotion. I will discuss the various brain structures and the molecular processes that are related to learning in order to better understand our cognition and memories that assist in the accumulation of knowledge. It is essential to focus on specific systems of the mind to understand the neural basis of learning through extensive research. This paper will examine the rewarding effects of knowing the neuroscience behind learning and injecting behavior modifications into our daily routines to maximize learning potential at the neurological level.

Neurological Structures Involved with Learning

In order to understand the neurological aspects of learning, we must define some of the brain structures that relate to learning. The prefrontal cortex is the cerebral cortex which covers the front most part of the frontal lobe. The function of the brain’s prefrontal cortex is a storage of short-term memory and is also the agent for the planning and control of behavior.\cite{DeYoung_2010} There is also a group of nuclei in the temporal lobe above the thalamus referred to as the basal ganglia, which is connected to the cerebral cortex. The basal ganglia includes the subthalamic nucleus, substantia nigra, the globus pallidus, the ventral striatum and the dorsal striatum, and consists of the putamen and the caudate nucleus.\cite{Roberts_1992} The basic functions of these nuclei deal with cognition, learning, and motor control and activities. The basal ganglia are also associated with learning, memory, and unconscious memory processes, such as motor skills and implicit memory.\cite{Mishkin_1987} Obtaining an understanding of the functions and effects of the basal ganglia is critical in our neurological analysis of learning. The amygdala is located above the hippocampus in the medial temporal lobe and helps control memory and emotional memory.\cite{Robbins_2008} The cerebellum is a small structure at the back of the brain next to the spinal cord and resembles the cerebral cortex because of its bumpy surface.\cite{Schmitt_2009} The cerebellum plays a role in the learning of procedural memory, and motor learning, such as skills requiring co-ordination and fine motor control.\cite{Mishkin_1987} Examples of procedural memory skills include driving a car or playing the guitar, which gives us insight into why some people may have difficulties learning these types of skills. The hippocampus is a structure in the brain helps with memory processes and is a part of the limbic system.\cite{25859188} The hypothalamus is located right under the thalamus and right above the brainstem.\cite{Behbehani_1995} The hypothalamus controls body temperature, hunger, thirst, fatigue, sleep, and circadian rhythms.\cite{Fliers_2006} It seems to be beneficial to look at individuals that are masters of learning and memorization, such as chess players and mathematic geniuses, to find which brain functions are important in these functions. Gazzaniga conducted this research of memory experts and the results show that there are, but not limited to, six brain areas that are important in memory and learning: the medial parietal cortex, retrosplenial cortex, right posterior hippocampus, right cingulate cortex, left fusiform cortex, and left posterior inferior frontal sulcus.\cite{Collins_2007} If one wants to obtain a strong understanding of learning processes, it is vital they know these brain locations as they are extremely important to the various memory functions associated with learning.