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What is Brain Stimulation in Learning? Many Different Things

The human brain remains a major mystery in many ways. As neuroscientists continue to research and discover new information, we can hope that someday, we will have answers to many questions and the cures for many neurologically-based diseases. In the meantime, some recent studies have provided some information regarding brain stimulation in learning that are worth discussing.

There are two types of brain stimulation – the stimulation that comes from being exposed to new and different situations that “force” brain activity in certain regions, and the stimulation that comes from an outside “force,” in order to stimulate brain activity in a specific region. Both have implications for education.

Internal Brain Stimulation

The results of a longitudinal study at the University of Pennsylvania on brain development have revealed that toddler and pre-school children who were exposed to a wide variety of intellectual stimuli at that stage in their lives, had a more developed brain cortex than their counterparts when they reached their teen years. And the parts of the brain that involved this increased development dealt with language and cognition – pretty important skills for success in school. The takeaway from this study, according to Dr. Marth Farah, Director of the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University, is that the more intellectually challenging activities a child can receive during his/her toddlers year, the better chance there is for academic success, that is aprehending the material both through reading or listening and essay writing later on – the brain is stimulated and develops better.

External Brain Stimulation (aka, Deep Brain Stimulation)

Research has been ongoing at the Mayo Clinic with treatment for patients with neurological disorders that result in disease (e.g. Parkinson’s) or in physical impairments such as epilepsy and disorder dyspraxia. This treatment involves attaching electrodes to certain parts of the brain that are connected by a wire under the skin to a box that produces small electric shocks and specified intervals. The research is promising but not at the level at which results can be published.

In terms of ramifications of this brain stimulation research for education, the results could be quite beneficial for students who suffer from epilepsy and from dyspraxia. Epilepsy is a condition of uncontrolled tremors and movement; dyspraxia is a brain disorder that results in inability to perform normal physical functions of both large and small muscle coordination. Children who suffer from this condition have difficulty balancing, jumping, and maintaining good posture; they also have small muscle issues such as holding a pencil and writing legibly. Still another manifestation is delayed and slurred speech. Currently, these disorders are treated with physical and speech therapy in order to “train” the related parts of the brain to function better. Results have been mixed and seem to depend on the level of severity of the condition.

The brain is a fascinating organ. We know that when certain parts are damaged, other parts can take over functions if “trained.” We also know that developing brains are flexible enough that appropriate stimuli can improve certain neurological conditions, whether that stimuli is medical or non-medical in nature.

Special educators especially can take some of this science as they develop individual plans for their handicapped students.