Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Social Brain: Bigger is Better?

Humans are an incredibly social species.  How did we become that way?  According to the "social brain hypothesis," specific areas within the brain were selectively enlarged during evolution to support enhanced social functioning.

Humans are a social species
The precise underlying changes in the brain are not known, but many scientists are focusing on one particular area: the amygdala.  With its extensive connectivity throughout the brain and well-known involvement in a variety of social behaviors, including fear, anger, and certain types of learning and memory, the amygdala is an ideal candidate for study.  According to the social brain hypothesis, we

Sunday, February 13, 2011

So you think you know how to study?

What is the most effective way to learn?  Both students and teachers agonize over this question.  The general consensus is that active, concept-based "elaborative learning" techniques are the best way to truly absorb and understand a new topic.  In contrast, simply recalling the information is assumed to be a passive process, demonstrating how much is remembered but not contributing to learning at all.

In retrieval practice, students freely recall
as much information as they can
(image from www.filterjoe.com)
However, recent findings published in the journal Science reveal surprising new information that contradicts this assumption.  Jeffrey Karpicke and Janell Blunt at Purdue University had undergraduate students study science material using one of two main techniques and then compared how well they learned.  The first technique was concept mapping, an engaging and widely-used elaborative learning method.  The other technique, called retrieval practice, simply required students to freely recall as