Connecting Neurons – the process of learning!

Posted Wednesday April 30, 2014 by Ian Spence

The hypothalamus

The hypothalamus is tucked under the hemispheres but is central to learning new skills. How do we get it to help us learn?

The anatomy of learning is still a big mystery! What happens inside us that makes it easy for us to do new things like walk, type, or read? Brain studies suggest that most automatic movements are triggered by the hypothalamus, a small section of the brain tucked above the spinal cord. But we do not know what changes take place in this part of the brain or between it, our other brain parts, and our body’s organs that make new skills automatic.

So here is my theory. The hypothalamus’ chief job is to make less work. It strives to keep the body functions balanced. When signals come in from the eyes, ears, and touch sensors the hypothalamus sends them on via general neuronal pathways to muscles that make us move. At first those signals move inefficiently down crowded general-purpose neuronal pathways, with many intersections and stops – a lot of wasted energy. But if we repeat that pattern a lot the hypothalamus decides to build a new neuron super highway especially for that set of motions, and the task is completed faster, with less energy. That new super highway is the “automating” or “habituating.”

But how do we get our hypothalamus’ attention?  We can’t talk to our hypothalamus and say “build a neuron super highway for typing.” We can’t wish it and make it so! What catches it quickest is practice! Repeated actions that make the same demands. How often? Not a big burst for several minutes on one day once in a while. But if the actions occur for a few minutes every day, that catches ht’s attention – and every day it gets back to building that superhighway.

I want to test my theory. And here is how.  Lets look at charts of learners who practice their fluencies every day, versus charts of those who practice many times on just a few days of the week. Which ones make the fastest progress, or “acquire the skill?” What do you think?