Know your Brain to learn how to learn with Grégoire Borst (Part #1)

Understanding the fundamental mechanisms that underlie learning is what Babaoo is all about. Understanding the Executive Functions is the first step towards developing and learning our cognitive processes, which are essential for both academic and personal learning. But how are Executive Functions developed and why do they underpin all our knowledge? Grégoire Borst and Mag Babaoo take a closer look! ⬇️
Babaoo The Mag Know your Brain to learn how to learn with Grégoire Borst (Part #1)

In Radio France’s “Votre Cerveau” podcast series, Grégoire Borst, professor of developmental psychology and educational cognitive neuroscience, explained how the Executive Functions work and why it’s so important to develop them correctly in order to learn optimally. 🧠

In this first part, discover three essential processes to understand in order to learn how to learn.

Attention, the founding brick of learning mechanisms

Everyday life would be a lot more complicated if we didn’t have a key Executive Function: Attention. Imagine being at work or school and being unable to concentrate on a task, disrupted by social network notifications, the shouts of classmates in the playground, your phone ringing, cars passing by below the desk,… all factors that would make it impossible to perform tasks from the simplest to the most complex. 📳

Attention plays a major role in our daily lives, and develops very early on in our childhood. It is the Executive Function that gives the Brain the ability to focus on relevant information in a given context. For an adult, this means being able to concentrate on the road while driving, while holding a conversation with a passenger. For children at school, it’s the ability to focus on what the teacher is explaining despite the whispers in the back of the classroom. 🔊

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This ability to “erase” information to focus on other information is called “Attentional Blindness”. The human brain has the ability to focus its attentional beam on certain points. Have you ever heard of the Gorilla Test, in which you’re asked to concentrate on the number of times the ball passes from one person to another? Few of us, on first viewing, notice that a surprising element crosses the picture.

If today’s children are no less attentive than they were 30 years ago, their attention is far more solicited than before, to the point where it’s sometimes extremely difficult for them to choose attentional targets appropriately. 👓

Memory, my beautiful memory, tell me what I need to remember

If Attention is the basis of learning, Working Memory is the workshop that enables us to retain and manipulate information for a short period of time. Subjected to a continuous stream of information, the human Brain is capable, on average, of retaining up to seven pieces of information at the same time. Generally speaking, the Brain retains only the beginning and end of long series of information: this is known as the primacy and recency effect. If you have to remember a phone number, for example, you’re more likely to retain the first and last digits. 🧠

To increase the amount of information retained, the Brain uses association methods; the more it combines, the more it reduces attentional resources. The Brain manipulates information to increase its capacity to solve increasingly complex problems.

Working Memory is particularly sensitive to Attention, but other types of memory also exist, notably Long-Term Memory. These include Semantic Memory, linked to language and school knowledge, Autobiographical Memory, linked to memories that are specific to us, and Procedural Memory, associated with automatisms such as cycling, walking or driving.

Memory functions in three stages, which form the memory cycle:

  • The encoding of information,
  • The consolidation of information,
  • Recovering information with the aim of reusing it.

I think therefore I am, I resist therefore I inhibit

Resisting automatism and breaking out of habits are possible thanks to Inhibition. When we want (or need) to leave our routine, the prefrontal cortex area takes matters into its own hands. Quickly, our Brain is programmed to follow a routine: in the morning, we get up, drink our cup of coffee, brush our teeth, get dressed, take the car, follow the road, arrive at the office, drink a second cup of coffee… Inhibition is the ability to say to oneself “STOP, I’m going to stop and think”. What if I took the left-hand path instead of the right? Do I need that second cup of coffee? ☕

Inhibition is what enables us to step back and avoid falling into the traps set by certain automatisms. We mentioned above the principle of how Memory works, in association: the Brain groups together what, for it, deserves to be grouped together. If you are asked to remember a series of words consisting of the words “papa, maman, homme, femme” (father, mother, man, woman), disregarding the type of voice reading them (feminine or masculine), your Brain will probably instinctively associate masculine voices with the terms “homme” (man) and “papa” (father), whereas feminine voices may be associated with “femme” (woman) and “maman” (mother). Similarly, the term “more than” in a mathematical statement is fundamentally associated with addition, which can sometimes mislead the child as to which terms should actually be added. Inhibition is what enables us to step back from these associations and retain what is relevant in a given context.

Learning to resist also means being able to look beyond one’s own perception and demonstrate heterocentrism, an ability that is not easy to master since we perceive the world from our own point of view. Developing the ability to view reality from a different perspective is, however, necessary if we are to adapt properly to a world that is changing faster and faster. 👀

The Babaoo recap

Attention, Memory and Inhibition are three Executive Functions paramount to starting the adventure of learning, whether it’s learning a poem, playing the drums or memorizing the choreography for the fair dance show. Being able to fix your attention on a task despite distractions, remembering information so as to be able to manipulate and recite it and, finally, being able to break out of your routine by finding quick solutions in line with the context in which you find yourself, are proof of your mastery of these three Executive Functions.

Would you like to discover Grégoire Borst’s explanations of other cognitive functions of the Brain? Babaoo invites you to discover the rest of this first article! On the program: Metacognition, Motivation and Emotions!

Educative app for children Babaoo

Read also:
➡️ Learning to learn: the contributions of Neuroeducation (Part #1)
➡️ Learning to learn: the contributions of Neuroeducation (Part #2)

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