Recently, educators and neuroscientists have been working together to examine the recent findings about the brain in a new sub-specialty called “educational neuroscience”. Educational neuroscience is really in its infancy – given that 90% of what we know about the brain was discovered post 1990. Nevertheless, neuroscience discoveries, I believe, have enormous implications for psychology, education, including aid and development. Here is an introduction to some of the key findings.
The emotional brain:Â Emotions and thinking are deeply connected and occur in the same brain -unlike the old thinking which kept them separate. Â So, for example Â perception of threat, punishment, embarrassment, anxiety, etc. reduces brain’sÂ capacity for higher level cognitive functions, such as attention, focus, reasoning, emotional self-regulation, analysis, planning, and decision making. Â This means that a school/college’s culture of creating a safer environment from these negative perceptions can help increase the brain’s capacity to become more curious, try out new things, seek out novelty, and focus its attention.
Positive emotions increase production of certain neurochemicals such as dopamine which help to increase focus, memory, motivation and warmth towards other students. So, for students, humor, play, structured positive peer group interactions, frequent feedback and corrective assessments, reflection of both academic content and one’s emotional states, and physical movement in/outside the classroom – all increase positive emotions and thus help in keeping students engaged, curious, thinking and learning.
Embodied Cognition:Â The recent scientific theory is that cognition is embodied and thus involves physical movement, emotions and reflection of one’s experiences. Memorization of information and passing tests involves very limited cognitive skills.Â In this new thinking, “embodied cognition” is a biological phenomenon, not just mental or intellectual. It requires application, testing it out in real world situations, constant feedback, and practice. (see article “Know-how is embodied” published in The Republica on 17/8/2014).
The Brain changes or Neuroplasticity:Â Contrary to the scientific belief that brain cells does not regenerate and hence that the brain Â cannot change, more recent findings of “neurogenesis” show that neuron cells do regenerate and thus form new connections. In addition, the emerging specialty called “Neuroplasticity” tells us that the brain can and will grow, adapt and change through new experiences and learning.Â Neuroplasticity continues throughout our lifetime. Thus, even old people can learn, adapt and change their habits of mind, emotions and behavior.
Teenage Brain: The latest research is showing that the brain develops from the lower to higher parts till age of 24 or so. In other words, the limbic brain, which regulates reward seeking behavior, peer influence, new experiences and pleasure and is dominated by emotions grows faster than the cortex, particularly the pre-frontal cortex or “executive brain” that regulates rational thinking, judging of consequences, decision making and control of emotions. The cortex continues to grow and develop in later years till about age of 24. So, this explains how young adolescents engage in more risky behavior, seek out new experiences, and are driven by their emotions which they find hard to control. On the positive side, they are more open and willing to explore; they are passionate and have a lot of energy; they are willing to learn and experiment; they question the status quo and established ideas and traditions.
In Nepal, we have a chance to leapfrog from an 18th century model of education into the modern age of educational neuroscience. One simple innovation is the teaching of what is called “mindfulness based social and emotional learning”. Research of its effectiveness on students in the US, across race, income and academic levels has shown that these skills improve student behavior and relationships, reduces disciplinary problems, strengthens their capacity to regulate their emotions, and enhances self-image and confidence while also improving their academic performance.
Ravi Pradhan is
the founder of Karuna Management and has over two decades of experience
as an international consultant and trainer in management and
organizational effectiveness. His current focus is on change management
and leadership as well as on introducing mindfulness based emotional
intelligence. He lives in Nepal andÂ Vietnam where he is working on a
Other articles by same author: