Researchers have figured out why some people are slow learners --
their brain may not be able to process information sufficiently.
Scientists trained the subjects' sense of touch to be more
In subjects who responded well to the training, the EEG
(Electroencephalography) revealed characteristic changes in brain
activity, more specifically in the alpha waves.
These alpha waves show, among other things, how effectively the
brain exploits the sensory information needed for learning.
"An exciting question now is to what extent the alpha activity can
be deliberately influenced with biofeedback," said Hubert Dinse
from the Neural Plasticity Lab of the Ruhr-Universitat Bochum, who
led the study.
"This could have enormous implications for therapy after brain
injury or, quite generally, for the understanding of learning
processes," Dinse was quoted as saying in the Journal of
The research team from the Ruhr-Universitat, the Humboldt
Universitat zu Berlin, Charite-Universitatsmedizin Berlin, and the
Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
were involved in the findings, according to a statement of Ruhr-Universitat
How well we learn depends on genetic aspects, the individual brain
anatomy, and, not least, on attention.
"In recent years we have established a procedure with which we
trigger learning processes in people that do not require
attention," said Dinse.
The researchers were, therefore, able to exclude attention as a
factor. They repeatedly stimulated the participants' sense of
touch for 30 minutes by electrically stimulating the skin of the
Before and after this passive training, they tested the so-called
"two-point discrimination threshold," a measure of the sensitivity
For this, they applied gentle pressure to the hand with two
needles and determined the smallest distance between the needles
at which the patient still perceived them as separate stimuli.
On average, the passive training improved the discrimination
threshold by 12 percent - but not in all of the 26 participants.
Using EEG, the team studied why some people learned better than
The results, therefore, suggest that perception-based learning is
highly dependent on how accessible the sensory information is.
The alpha activity, as a marker of constantly changing brain
states, modulates this accessibility.