The Effect of Brain Stimulation on Academic Performance
Everyone talks about the brain, and a new study on the impact of brain stimulation on academic performance suggests that talking about the brain can really benefit students.
Reported in the January 1, 2015, issue of the journal Psychological Science, “Learners with enhanced self-control outperformed peers with impaired self-control, regardless of how engaged the student was in the instruction.”
Like many studies on the study of the brain, this research builds on a novel conceptualization of neuroscience. Rather than solely focusing on the parts of the brain that use substances like dopamine and serotonin, this research zeroed in on which parts of the brain are actively linked to neural pathways and decision-making.
With this approach, even something as seemingly harmless as talking about or doing a list-oriented task can result in behavioral changes, as well as improvements in health and physical well-being.
Because group learning is what is reported as the common thread for those areas of the brain that are more active during group learning, this work is relevant not only to academic learning, but also to occupational learning and learning differences in children and adults.
The time frame for this work was provided to MindShift by the Stanford Neuroscience Group in anticipation of the new year. Stanford professor Sandra K. N. Ma, who is the lead author on the current research, contributed to many other studies that related to brain stimulation. The current study stemmed from her study of the role of the teenage hippocampus in self-control.
Ma described this study as “a 10-year longitudinal study of about 1,600 adolescents.” For those of you who don’t know or care, “the hippocampus is the center of emotional processing and thought.”
The original study used stimulus-based learning technology and focused on a video in which the actor called Jennifer ate bananas and other fruits. This led to a list-based task in which participants were required to flip a coin after viewing a list of nouns.
Classical School Shootings
In this setting, students were encouraged to avoid both the physical and emotional discomfort associated with learning to flip a coin or picking a class assignment that promoted quiet time.
The benefit for students shown to show greater self-control was how they performed on the list-based task that required self-control. For example, those who showed more self-control completed the task 44 percent more quickly.
In other words, those who had less self-control received a text message at an equally competitive time, but showed better performance on the self-control task.
Another study explored the connection between verbal learning and life satisfaction. This study looked at participants who were ranked low on verbal learning and compared those same students to those who were ranked high on verbal learning. Students were then assessed for happiness and then rated as either happy or unhappy after the experiment.
Abstract of Current Study
According to Ma, there have been several studies on the effects of brain stimulation on group learning processes. “Many of these studies used cognitive tasks in which the study participants were required to focus on only one memory or another memory associated with the task. This study used a more comprehensive approach by using a real-world learning task requiring the cooperation of numerous individuals and compared the results to an experimental task of the same type.”
The study, titled “An evolutionary basis for the influence of plasticity on brain plasticity and cognition,” included randomized groups of adolescents. Each group was assigned to one of two groups: groups with higher scores on verbal learning completed a control task without cognitive stimulation, while those with lower scores on verbal learning completed a group-level effort to engage group for a task and self-directed learning goals.
The pilot study indicated that self-control groups focused on self-control were more likely to improve when given access to the group and a distinct collaborative environment. As well, while rewardal responsiveness was greater among those learning on a neutral task, this group also showed greater rewards following group efforts than did the self-directed students.
Ma said the next step for this project is to continue to provide data to the Stanford NeuroGroup on this group of adolescents. She noted that in some cases, this group may have a genetic predisposition for working better on self-control tasks, while in other cases it may be a consequence of learning environment.
After going through the rigors of high school, college, and then the workforce, she anticipates this group of adolescents may be more willing to try self-control.
However, this study illustrates that there are several adaptive strategies for improving self-control, and suggests that these strategies are things parents and teachers can engage in.