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Plasticity and our ability to learn

Education requires a vast amount of information to be committed to memory, and this type of information first arrives at the hippocampus where it is converted into a form for storage in regions across the brain.

But this structure is not only about memory for facts and figures. Its size, for example, predicts the ability of children’s arithmetic skills aged 8-9 years (Supekar et al., 2013) and the size of the hippocampus can be increased by a range of learning experiences(Wenger and Lovden, 2016). Amongst adults, learning experiences that have been found to increase the size of the hippocampus include learning navigational skills. A part of the hippocampus measured in London taxi drivers, for example, was larger than that of bus drivers, who have to navigate less (Maguire et al., 2000).

Another example of this type of plasticity includes intensely studying a foreign language (Martensson et al., 2012). In an example of foreign language study, measures of hippocampal growth predicted memory performance independent of time spent studying and vocabulary increase, demonstrating learning may improve one’s basically ability to learn more - or that “learning begets learning”!

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This article is from the free online course:

The Science of Learning

National STEM Learning Centre