LEARNING RECHARGES

The brain, a magnificent creation, capable of performing enormous feats is unique in its own way. Maestros and champions work their way through with rigorous training and repeating the same thing over and over again to achieve the pedestals they are standing on now. Why do people call the first victory luck instead of saying it as hard work or a deserving victory? Ever given a thought to the saying “Practice makes a man perfect”? Anything without consistent work can be broken any time. What brings the change in consistent work and a onetime or a few times luck?- Your brain.

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LEARNING:

The brain has many gyri (ridges) and sulci (furrows) which give the folded appearance to the cerebral cortex of the brain. The other deeper furrows found are fissures like the longitudinal fissure which separates the brain into two hemispheres. Majority of the portions (two-thirds) of the brain lie within and remain unexposed. Apart from these, learning something for the first time also creates new mild impressions on the brain called as ingrim. This shallow ingrim shows that the newly learnt concept is saved in the short term memory. If not redone within a few days, the memory is lost as the ingrim disappears. Repeated practices of the newly learnt act, over a period of time convert this short term memory to a permanent memory where the ingrims of such memories become deeper and stay forever. This repeated notion changes your brain in a way which is not completely known yet.

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Previously, it was thought that the brain stops growing once it’s completely mature. But recent researches prove the other way round. Right from the time of brain growth in the fetus to the time a person dies, the brain grows, and new cells are being produced. The production rate varies but it doesn’t bring the production to a complete halt, connections are made, connections are broken, some cells die, some are replaced, some nerve cells change and some new cells come into action. Over the period, we learn to do certain things developing some parts of the brain while some other portions of the brain begin to slow down even without our knowledge. The mystery is yet to be unwrapped.

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When we look at the information that is stored in our brain, be it a memory, a lesson, a sport or an art form, all bits of similar information are grouped together but in a broken format, similar to our computer storage. These memories are stored within the hippocampus which is found deep in the brain. It is also used to spot things. Now, recollection of the stored data is like completing a big jigsaw puzzle. Every time, the brain reconstructs the memory from all the bits scattered among the many other information it has. There is the reason why we can’t reproduce exactly what was told to us all the time and the reason for the exaggeration. People have varied ability to reconstruct depending on their brain’s skill to join the pieces.

To observe the brain activity while learning something new, fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or PET scan (Positron Emission Tomography) is used. fMRI uses a huge magnet to detect and image the variation in blood flow in the brain. PET scan imaging is done by aligning and then bombarding positrons to obtain variations in different regions depending on density. These are the two major tools used for observing brain activity. The machine shows an increase in blood flow in portions of the brain where activity is high. Dozens of test have been performed on the brain by making the subjects do specific tasts.

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Nathen Spreng – a neuroscientist, along with two other scientists restudied 38 already performed studies to know more about the morphing the brain does as it learns. All the studies showed PET scans or fMRI scans that highlighted brain regions which highlighted when they learnt new tasks. They revealed that the areas which help people to pay attention was highlighted when they learnt and over a period of practice the highlight moved to areas where mind wandering and day dreaming were associated. This is because initially a lot of attention is required to learn new things and store it in your brain. But this is not the case once your brain masters the feat. You can perform it even when you are thinking about other things. Not thinking about the task will help you give a flawless outcome once you have mastered it.

 

WIRING:

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While learning something new, the neurons pass on the received information more readily and with ease, which shows that they are wired together. This wiring showed that the cells in that brain area spent minimal amount of energy in passing on the information. This increased activity causes neurons in the daydreaming site to rev up. This wiring was found by Spreng and his team. Also, a single neuron can transmit signal to many neurons at once and this strengthens the wiring.

 

A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP DOES THE JOB:

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While sleeping, the neurons involved in learning in the day function in a different way where they fire from the middle of the axon and move up to the cell body, ie., in the opposite direction. The firing signals were noted to be electrical signals instead of chemical signals. This functions like a recharge for the neuron to function more actively in the day. This was first observed by scientists in mice that were sleeping. This reverse firing occurs only in the hippocampus region of the brain and hence helps in recollecting memories and new tasks performed during the course of the day. This proves that sleep is essential for a good memory.

 

ASSOCIATES IN LEARNING:

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Studies have proved that glial cells, which were earlier thought to be present for holding neurons in place, are  involved in learning activity. About 85 percent of the brain cells are glial cells. “Glia” was got from the Greek word for ‘glue’. Not all neurons are protected by glial cells. Only one type of glial cell is present protecting the neurons of the brain. The protected neurons are referred to as myelinated nerve cells. The myelin sheath acts like an insulator and thus helps in the prevention of leakage of signals in a random manner and help in channelizing the message transfer. But this sheath is not continuous in nature; there are spaces in between the sheath referred to as the Nodes of Ranvier where the signal transfer is faster.

 

How do these glial cells help in learning? While learning, the number of glial cells increases drastically and many unmyelinated cells are also myelinated. This helps the neurons to transfer signals effectively which improves learning capacity. A thicker myelin sheath has proved to be helpful in doing brainy activities like playing instruments, reading creating new memories etc. There is more to a thicker myelin sheath; it improves decision making. Like neurons Glial cells also change during sleep and are fully grown in 20s. But the cause for the change in glial cells at night is an unraveled mystery.

 

THE BUILD UP:

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The brain cannot do all this development over night. It builds its capacity slowly but steadily. The major mistake most of the students do, is that they cramp all the information overnight before the test. It might get you through, but there is no desired level of development in the brain. For the proper insulation, for enhanced firing and for good wiring, consistency is important. Training your brain by learning something new every day gives the best result. Along with steady constant work, sleep is also of great importance. Build yourself up in the right way by giving your brain what it needs to be exquisite. Always remember the two sayings, ‘Practice makes a man perfect’ and ‘Slow and steady wins the race’.

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