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 physical environment", 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 nerve cells. Long-term depression, on the other hand, weakens the connections between the cells. According to our results, cell populations 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 nerve cell communication were influenced by the movement of the animals or were purely due to
|Contact: Prof. Dr. Denise Manahan-Vaughan|