Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Brain Rule #9: Sensory Integration

My summaries of the book Brain Rules continue...
Chapter 9: Sensory Integration
Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses.

One model for how we process information from our senses goes something like the following.  It starts with sensation--our five senses are stimulated by our environment (sensation). Then you might think that the thalamus, an egg shaped structure in the middle of the brain, routs those sensations to the respective sense corners of the brain (routing)--sight, sound, etc. Finally, their conclusions are merged and sent to the higher parts of the brain for perception of what they mean.

Although the evidence is not definitive, Medina thinks it is leaning toward a messier process.  In this model, the senses begin to confer with each other almost immediately.  The overall process is much the same except that perception is going on from the very beginning as the senses interact with each other.

Perception involves both "bottoms up" and "top down" activities. Association cortices in the brain connect the sense data that has come up from our senses and been processed by the key sensory areas of the brain (bottoms up) with past experiences and memories that it relates to them (top down). The result is that two people experiencing the same sensory stimulation can have different perceptions based on their past experiences. Accordingly, we have no guarantee that we experience the world as it actually is.

Our varied senses confer with each other in the process of perception, all along the way. If you see a video where someone says "ga" and the sound "ba" is dubbed over it, many will hear something like "da," a compromise between your sight and hearing (McGurk effect). On the positive side, the use of multiple senses in learning improves the likelihood of retention.

"When touch is combined with visual information, recognition learning leaps forward by almost 30 percent, compared with touch alone" (208).  Multisensory learning can improve learning 50 to 75 percent. Richard Mayer puts down several rules for multimedia presentations:

  • We learn by words and pictures better than from words alone.
  • Learning is better when words and pictures appear at the same time rather than one after the other and close to each other rather than far apart.
  • Learning is better when extra information is included.
  • Students learn better from animation and narration than from animation and on-screen text.

Unlike the other senses, electrical impulses from smell bypasses the thalamus in routing and go directly to destinations in the brain like the amygdala, which controls emotions. Smell can thus have a powerful and immediate effect on us.  The Proust effect is when smell evokes strong memories. Smell stimuli also go directly to the decision making center of our brain.

As far as ideas, Medina suggests that the first part of a lecture involve multisensory stimulation. The combination of smell with a sales environment can significantly improve sales of particular items. Medina suggests that pairing particular smells with particular learning content would improve memory if that smell were reintroduced during testing.


Martin LaBar said...

There are more than 5 senses, although this doesn't change the argument.

There's balance, proprioceptive, and several senses of touch.

Thanks for posting this.

Ken Schenck said...