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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Neuroscience and pop culture: More trouble for education

Imaging studies of people evaluating anomalies, or working out unsettling dilemmas, show that activity in an area called the anterior cingulate cortex spikes significantly. The more activation is recorded, the greater the motivation or ability to seek and correct errors in the real world, a recent study suggests. “The idea that we may be able to increase that motivation,” said Dr. Inzlicht, a co-author, “is very much worth investigating.”

Researchers familiar with the new work say it would be premature to incorporate film shorts by David Lynch, say, or compositions by John Cage into school curriculums. For one thing, no one knows whether exposure to the absurd can help people with explicit learning, like memorizing French. For another, studies have found that people in the grip of the uncanny tend to see patterns where none exist — becoming more prone to conspiracy theories, for example. The urge for order satisfies itself, it seems, regardless of the quality of the evidence.

Still, the new research supports what many experimental artists, habitual travelers and other novel seekers have always insisted: at least some of the time, disorientation begets creative thinking.
Rest here. Trouble? Of course. Basically, students need a calm, quiet environment in order to grasp any important concept, like the mathematical proof of why you cannot square a circle or the use of metaphor in literature. The absurd might be a fun circus ride, sure, but .... Oh, and while we are here, they should have had a good night's sleep and a good breakfast too.

Memory lane: Forty years ago, a local school got all modernist and decided to abolish classroom walls. A key outcome was that troubled students, instead of being confined to raising cain in one classroom, were running through the whole school, disrupting them all.

Luckily, I had put my own kids in the Catholic school, which had never heard of any such thing. The kids were none the worse for that, either.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

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