Know your Brain to learn how to learn with Grégoire Borst (Part #2)

In the first part of this article, we talked about the three Executive Functions: Attention, Inhibition and Memory, without which learning would simply be impossible. While these three form the basis of all our learning, our cognitive processes also use other allies to enable us to understand, assimilate and transmit what we experience on a daily basis. Babaoo Mag takes stock of the situation in this second part! ⬇️
Babaoo The Mag Know your Brain to learn how to learn with Grégoire Borst (Part #2)

Let’s continue our journey through the Brain with Grégoire Borst, Professor of Developmental Psychology and Educational Cognitive Neuroscience, through the podcast series “Votre Cerveau”, proposed by Radio France, and let’s pick up together with three new processes: Metacognition, Motivation and Emotions, which play a primordial role in learning to learn. 🧠

Metacognition, that superpower of hindsight and analysis

Metacognition is the ability to accomplish a task or solve a problem by stepping back to analyze a situation by paying attention to what’s going on in our heads. Imagine your child in his classroom, when his teacher asks him to come and solve a calculation on the blackboard. Oops, stage fright, a lump in the stomach and a slight feeling of unease. His “little voice” reassures him: “It’s all right, you’re ready, you can stay zen” and after a few moments of doubt, optimism prevails: “I know how to solve this calculation, I’ve done it before.” Your child has just metacogitated, assessed, planned and anticipated in a few tenths of a second. 💭

To take this step back and analyze, we need to be able to understand why sometimes success is at the end of the road and why sometimes the adventure ends in failure. By understanding the mistakes made, we analyze our failures and can learn how not to repeat them. Being able to judge our own performance is at the heart of all our judgement skills. 📈

Why is it important to develop good metacognitive judgment? Quite simply to develop the ability to judge our own experience, fundamental to being able to learn from our mistakes and not overestimate ourselves. The cognitive mechanism describing the tendency to overestimate oneself is called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and can be mitigated by developing one’s metacognition.

Motivating yourself and cultivating the spirit of change

Motivation works in two ways: through the promise of an intrinsic or extrinsic reward. It’s a fundamental mechanism that lies at the very heart of our learning, since it’s thanks to Motivation that humans challenge and surpass themselves. 🏅

Extrinsic Motivation is the way our Brain has found to push us to compete with others. The higher the stakes in the competition, the greater the commitment. Firstly, because of the context, but also because of the very idea of obtaining a reward, however small. As soon as we know we’ve won something, our motivation increases and we become more efficient. An example of this motivation can be illustrated by working for pay, or studying for a competition with the idea of achieving the best possible result. 👪

The opposite of Extrinsic Motivation is Intrinsic Motivation, not guided by the performance of others, but by one’s own desire to learn and improve out of desire, in order to gain new experience. It’s a motivation that’s unique and personal to us, and from then on, the competitive aspect is only with ourselves, and another mechanism is put in place in the Brain. That of pleasure. Learning that is based on pleasure is learning that will be easier. ⛹️

Yet, according to Grégoire Borst, the prospect of personal satisfaction is more powerful than that of a final reward for long-term motivation. We’re at the heart of the learning reactor here, since cultivating the pleasure of learning fosters healthy motivation.

From a very early age, children experience genuine pleasure in learning their first skills, such as words, steps and games. A pleasure that tends to diminish as they enter the school system, where intrinsic Motivation sometimes fades in favor of extrinsic Motivation, whose driving force is the dreaded report card. 🎒

The balance of emotions and values

Our socio-emotional skills play a key role in our learning. When we correctly identify and understand our emotions and those of others, we gradually develop the capacities for emotional regulation and social adaptation. We learn to live with others!

It’s through the limbic system that we can feel emotions, thanks to brain processing that generates a cascade of physiological reactions, such as crying or laughing. Being able to recognize and regulate emotions is a gradual learning process:

  • Baby, we’re incapable of managing our emotions. We cry, scream to make ourselves understood, before learning only many years later to recognize and then master them.
  • As adolescents, we plunge back into a troubled period during which hormones and cognitive changes disrupt emotional management. Our limbic system resembles a pressure cooker at the end of development, while the Prefrontal Cortex, which regulates emotions, will have to wait several more years to mature, around our 25th birthday!

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The Babaoo recap

The brain is a wonderful tool! Developing our capacity for Inhibition, Attention, or even Memory, also allows us to regulate our Emotions, and therefore, to become a socially adapted being.

Learning is based on a set of cognitive processes that develop throughout life, at the heart of which Metacognition also plays a fundamental role. Reflecting on the way we act enables us to improve constantly, and will have an inescapable effect on our motivation.

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