Brain Chemical Predicts Ability to Learn “By Doing”

Advancements in cognitive science and educational practice has lead to a clear understanding that people have different learning styles, be it auditory, visual, or tactile. In a new study, an international collaboration has determined a link between the level of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain and tactile learning.

If you are an auditory learner, you learn by hearing and listening, while a visual learner learns best by reading or seeing pictures. Tactile learners learn by touching and doing.

Neuroscientists at the Ruhr-University Bochum used magnetic resonance spectroscopy to show that baseline GABA levels can predict success in tactile learning.

The research findings have been published in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex.

Researchers explain that processing information from the environment requires a high level of information integration by the nervous system that relies on both electrical and chemical signaling.

One of the most important chemicals in the brain is GABA, which is the main source of cortical inhibition. The levels of GABA have been shown to be critically involved in the brain’s ability to adapt and learn, allowing us to effectively improve our senses through repetitive exposure.

Previous research has shown that by passively stimulating the fingertips with low level electrical currents, tactile acuity can be improved.

By applying a similar protocol in conjunction with non-invasive measurements of GABA, the researchers have provided a potential learning-associated mechanism. Put simply, the higher the GABA levels of the primary somatomotor cortex, the greater the sensory learning potential.

Importantly, the levels of GABA were not affected by the sensory learning, but rather the magnitude of learning was related to baseline levels of the neurotransmitter.

As the researchers explain, “Among other genetic and anatomical factors interfering with learning, the neurotransmitter GABA plays a vital role in tactile learning.

Its baseline concentration lets us predict how efficient passive stimulation will result in learning, as shown by improved tactile discrimination.”

Researchers say that future investigations will seek to provide further insight into the mechanisms of sensory learning.

Source: Ruhr-University Bochum/EurekAlert