Willpower stimulates learning and memory well


  • Active learning, that is, occurring through voluntary action, is more effective and enhances memory more.
  • This active learning generates theta phase code in the hippocampus of the brain that promotes the determination and retrieval of information.
  • This finding not only has educational implications, but can also help improve missing memories or erase painful memories.

Involving more investment and greater cognitive engagement, active learning occurs through the voluntary action of the person who wants to learn. This means that there is a modulation of attention, motivation and cognitive control that makes the process a lot more efficient. Therefore, active learning is more efficient, because memory benefits. But, until now, the physiological processes involved in the active learning process have not been elucidated.

A new study, conducted by an international group of researchers and published in the journal PNAS ()Proceedings of the National Academy of Science) Sheds light on this cognitive system in humans for the first time. According to its authors, the key lies in the oscillations of theta waves generated by the hippocampus of the human brain, while the brain controls the learning process.

How personal freedom promotes memory

To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers recruited epilepsy patients and asked them to participate in a virtual reality game. They were navigating a square track and had to remember images of objects presented at various locations on the track. Navigation may be active, that is, participants independently controlled their movements, or passive, if it was another subject planning the route and, therefore, deciding the order of contact of the routes. In this second mode, subjects had no control over how to recall objects left in the virtual environment.

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The researchers measured the electrophysiological activity of their hippocampus and tested the recognition of objects at the end of the experiment. They were thus able to verify the importance of active learning in each of the participants. He then observed that subjects that had an active navigation, “An increase in theta oscillations was identified, which made learning and subsequent memory more efficient”.. He identified two successive incidents, separated by milliseconds: “One of them corresponded to the encoding of information, the second to the retrieval of previously stored information: reactivation of memory.”, Dr. Daniel Pacheco, the study’s first author.

Indeed, subjects navigating freely in virtual environments have supported theta phase code that favors the determination and retrieval of information.

Many practical applications possible

For researchers, the practical applications of this discovery are numerous because it “Empirically confirms that elements such as motivation, cognitive control, and ability to make decisions for oneself are essential for effective learning”. In addition to its application in education to promote effective learning, it may allow, by manipulating theta oscillation, “Modify painful memories or improve memories lost due to amnesia or neurodegenerative diseases”.

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About the Author: Abbott Hopkins

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