Two-dimensional learning: Viewing computer images causes long-term changes in nerve cell connections

September 26, 2011

Viewing two-dimensional images of the environment, as they occur in computer games, leads to sustained changes in the strength of nerve cell connections in the brain. In Cerebral Cortex, Prof. Dr. Denise Manahan-Vaughan and Anne Kemp of the RUB Department for Neurophysiology report about these findings. When the researchers presented rats with new spatial environments on a computer screen, they observed long-lasting changes in the communication between nerve cells in a brain structure which is important for long-term memory (hippocampus). Thus, the researchers showed for the first time that active exploration of the environment is not necessary to obtain this effect.

"These results help to understand to what extent digital learning in the brain competes with learning in the ", says Manahan-Vaughan. "This is interesting for developing strategies for use of digital media in school. Such strategies can prove a useful antidote to the apathy in children towards the traditional teaching methods."

Two mechanisms for learning in the brain

In the hippocampus, two different mechanisms for the long-term storage of new information are at work . Long-term potentiation leads to an increase in the communication between . Long-term depression, on the other hand, weakens the connections between the cells. "According to our results, react with potentiation at the beginning, for instance when we enter a new room ", explains Manahan-Vaughan. "Long-term depression then allows us to refine this new cellular information and encode the details and characteristics of the room."

Learning without movement

The Bochum team showed that long-term depression takes place in a special part of the hippocampus, when rats actively explore their environment. "We were, however, not sure if these changes in were influenced by the movement of the animals or were purely due to learning about the novel objects", explains Manahan-Vaughan. In order to separate both effects, the researchers presented the spatial context via a computer screen so that active exploration of the environment was unnecessary. Long-term depression occurred also without movement, meaning that it mediates passive learning in the hippocampus.

Computer and TV compete with learning in school

"School teachers, particularly at the junior school level have become increasingly concerned at their observations that each generation of school children exhibits shorter attention spans and poorer retention abilities than the previous generation", states Manahan-Vaughan. "One explanation for this is the ever increasing use of the digital media by school children. Our results indeed show that mammals can learn equally well when they passively view information on a computer screen compared to actively exploring the environment for this information. Television or computer games after school may compete with the information learned in school."

Explore further: Motor memory: The long and short of it

More information: A. Kemp, D. Manahan-Vaughan (2011). Passive Spatial Perception Facilitates the Expression of Persistent Hippocampal Long-Term Depression, Cerebral Cortex, doi:10.1093/cercor/bhr233

Related Stories

Motor memory: The long and short of it

September 13, 2011
For the first time, scientists at USC have unlocked a mechanism behind the way short- and long-term motor memory work together and compete against one another.

Recommended for you

Researchers find monkey brain structure that decides if viewed objects are new or unidentified

August 18, 2017
A team of researchers working at the University of Tokyo School of Medicine has found what they believe is the part of the monkey brain that decides if something that is being viewed is recognizable. In their paper published ...

Artificial neural networks decode brain activity during performed and imagined movements

August 18, 2017
Artificial intelligence has far outpaced human intelligence in certain tasks. Several groups from the Freiburg excellence cluster BrainLinks-BrainTools led by neuroscientist private lecturer Dr. Tonio Ball are showing how ...

How whip-like cell appendages promote bodily fluid flow

August 18, 2017
Researchers at Nagoya University have identified a molecule that enables cell appendages called cilia to beat in a coordinated way to drive the flow of fluid around the brain; this prevents the accumulation of this fluid, ...

Study of nervous system cells can help to understand degenerative diseases

August 18, 2017
The results of a new study show that many of the genes expressed by microglia differ between humans and mice, which are frequently used as animal models in research on Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Researchers make surprising discovery about how neurons talk to each other

August 17, 2017
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have uncovered the mechanism by which neurons keep up with the demands of repeatedly sending signals to other neurons. The new findings, made in fruit flies and mice, challenge ...

Neurons involved in learning, memory preservation less stable, more flexible than once thought

August 17, 2017
The human brain has a region of cells responsible for linking sensory cues to actions and behaviors and cataloging the link as a memory. Cells that form these links have been deemed highly stable and fixed.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.