Thursday, February 14, 2008

Learning And The Brain: Keynote by Larry Cahill Ph.D.

I tried to tap into Dr. Cahill's research on emotional memories in my last post, but here are the notes I took during his keynote at Learning and the Brain conference in San Francisco, which also addresses gender, hormones, and brain hemispheres. Some of my notes are in my own words and some phrases are Dr. Cahill's. I apologize for not quoting well here.

Basic Premise: Memory (the brain function) creates self. And, emotion disproportionately sculpts the brain. So, how, again, can we leverage this for effective teaching and learning? And how can this knowledge empower students?

Part I: Background – Brain Mechanism of Emotional Memory
•Memory is active, constructive, and based on orientation. Throughout the building process, perceptions are created.

•Amygdala is the structure in brain that's central for making strong memories of emotional events. It works together with stress hormone response: during and after events, feeds information back to brain. Amygdala works harder in emotionally arousing situations; doesn't care about neutral situations.

•Stress hormones enhance memory storage.

•New technique for measuring response is brain imaging, which is leading to awareness of difference between men/women brain.

•Activation happening on different sides of the brain: right side in men; left side=only women in response to stress hormone.

Part II: Sex Influences On The Brain

What does it mean for education and learning?
•Classical difference, no debate:
On average men can rotate images better (visual fluency).
Women have more verbal fluency.
Many differences on the psychological level.

What about on the brain level?

  • 1970 hippothalmus was difference.
    • Differences are ubiquitous
    • Incluences everything
  • Differences now:
    • Size of brain regions
    • Levels of neurotransmitter
    • Females have lower levels of serotonin
    • Women more depressed 2 to 1; drugs boost it for depression
    • Uncovering differences that aren't understood yet
    • Hippocampus cell experiments with knocking out molecules
    • Results in memory deficits in male mice, not female
    • Cell cultures – differences on this level
      • Neurons die, why?
      • Different depending on where they came from: male or female
Part III: The Blinders Come Off: Sex Influences On Brain Mechanism Of Emotional Memory
Sexes are not two different groups; two groups with overlap
• What are the findings?
  • Right hemisphere is gist of situation
  • left hemisphere better at details
  • Amygdala can be blocked, beta blockers
  • Experiment with emotional story:
    • Females remembered gist
    • Men remembered details
  • There are memory differences:
    • Women have better memory than men in general
    • Better for details
    • Outperform on these kinds of tests
    • Left side is more engaged when emotions are involved
    • What about without emotional stories?
      • Amygdala works with left side in women, right side in men

more notes soon...

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