January 14, 2008

Dramatic Play and Brain Function: An Applied Study

by Chris Chatham

“A new educational system called "Tools of the Mind" teaches not facts and figures, but rather focuses on cognitive skills in structured play. In the largest and most compelling study yet, exposure to this curriculum in the classroom drastically improves performance on a variety of psychometric and neuropsychological tests.

Vygotskian theory posits that children need to "learn to learn" - by mastering a set of mental tools which bootstrap their mental abilities, the same way that physical tools can extend physical abilities. The consequent "mental exercise" may strengthen the mind just like physical exercise strengthens the body. Thus, maximally-effective education may be explicitly cognitively-focused - i.e., teaching children to use their minds - rather than focused on skills like word learning and multiplication.”
Of course, a more critical and holistic approach would include a consideration of how personal experience, culture (with socially circulated expectations of learning and 'skill'), and environmental context influence the development of our bodymind capacities. Yet, rigorous neuroscience remains an important piece of the puzzle of better understanding the complexities of human behavior and development.

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Culture Influences Brain Function, Study Shows

ScienceDaily (Jan. 13, 2008) — People from different cultures use their brains differently to solve the same visual perceptual tasks, MIT researchers and colleagues report in the first brain imaging study of its kind.

Psychological research has established that American culture, which values the individual, emphasizes the independence of objects from their contexts, while East Asian societies emphasize the collective and the contextual interdependence of objects. Behavioral studies have shown that these cultural differences can influence memory and even perception. But are they reflected in brain activity patterns?

To find out, a team led by John Gabrieli, a professor at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, asked 10 East Asians recently arrived in the United States and 10 Americans to make quick perceptual judgments while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner--a technology that maps blood flow changes in the brain that correspond to mental operations.


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