03 March 2006

Neural Oscillations and the Virtues of Automaticity

Two good postings on brain function today. One from our old friend Chris at Develintel, titled Models of Active Maintenance as Oscillation. This excellent post continues the series on neural oscillation and synchrony.

Lisman and Idiart, Luck and Vogel, and Nelson Cowan have all suggested that working memory could be the result of the multiplexing of gamma oscillations (20-60 Hz) by theta oscillations (5-10 Hz) in the prefrontal cortex, such that capacity is determined by the number of gamma cycles that can occur within a single theta cycle.

Supporting this highly reductionistic claim are the observations that gamma oscillations are made more prominent by focused attention, that gamma oscillations are known to be important for transmitting information across large cortical distances and for visual binding of features into singular objects. Gamma synchrony is also known to increase performance in target detection as well as recall. Further, by playing auditory "clicks'" at near-gamma frequencies, it is possible to upwardly or downwardly entrain gamma rhythms and directly observe their effects on working memory span - exactly this was done by Burle and Bonnet.

Read the entire post here.

The second post on brain function is from Eide Neurolearning Blog, titled In Praise of Automaticity. Automaticity is when subconscious brain assets take over many tasks for the conscious brain. The Eides point out that conversion of conscious tasks into automaticity saves a great deal of work, and allows for natural progression of learning.

When academic or motor skills don't become automatic, a whole host of problems present themselves. Dyslexic students who have trouble remembering how to form letters automatically, can overload with essay writing, taking notes, or math problem sets (dysgraphia). If math facts, spelling or grammar conventions aren't known to the point of automaticity, then even very intelligent students can find themselves overwhelmed by higher order activities based on these building block skills. As a result, if we don't look for opportunities to accommodate, we may never discover a student's creative or critical thinking strengths.

For us adults, automatic expertise helps us carry out most of our activities of daily living and multi-tasking. It's a beautiful system because it allows us to rest while still getting plenty of work done.

Hat tip to Kevin at Intelligence Testing Blog.

It is helpful to look at brain activity from the different perspectives of neural networks, and developing human organisms.

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