Biological and Psychological Basis of Learning

Relationship between Memory and Learning

Memory and learning are closely interrelated because having memory is not necessary if its possessor never uses it while learning without memory is simply impossible. Memory is extremely important for a person because, without it, an individual has only basic reflexes and is capable of simple stereotyped behaviors (Okano, Hirano, Balaban, 2004). Learning, in its turn, is a process during which memory is acquired. For instance, in order to learn to ride a bicycle, a person has to memorize a number of details related to this procedure and practice these details until perfect. The subsequent learning (for instance, learning to drive a motorcycle or a car) consists in recollecting these details all the time, connecting them with the newly acquired information, retrieving it, and making corresponding conclusions. This is the essence of the process of learning and, to make this process effective, memory should be, if not perfect, then at least above the average level. This is why people always strive to improve their memory.

Types of Memory

There exist different kinds of memory and learning can improve some of them. Memory can be declarative (which is easily accessible to conscious recollection) and non-declarative, or procedural (which is needed to recollect skills that have been learned earlier) (Boller, Cermak, & Grafman, 2000). From these two, procedural memory allows tracing the relationship between memory and learning in the best way. Procedural memory is often referred to as skills learning. Owing to this type of memory, people can learn new skills, as well as improve them. Thus, for instance, if a person acquires tennis playing skills and will be practicing often, it will be possible to improve these skills.

Neuroanatomy of Memory and Learning

Due to the fact that memory can be declarative and procedural, neuroscientists have suggested that separate mechanisms for both these types exist in the human brain. They believe that the hippocampus and cerebrum are important for declarative memory, while the cerebellum is necessary for the procedural one (Sherwood, 2008). With any of these types of memory, certain alterations have to occur in the brain. Hippocampus is responsible for storing and retrieval of semantic information, such as “the meaning of words, famous dates in history, names of acquaintances, and other information that is encoded by language or other conscious methods” (Pritchard & Alloway, 2000). This is why damage to the hippocampus may result in amnesia after which a person will have to restore this information. Cerebellum, in its turn, is responsible for motor performance this is why it plays an especially important role in learning. Thus, using the declarative memory, the brain recollects and retrieves the information based on which it develops skills by impacting the procedural memory or, to be more exact, Purkinje neurons (the neurons of the cerebellar cortex) the firing of which “is modified directly through the action of mossy fibers on climbing fibers so that in a sense, the climbing fibers are “teaching” the Purkinje neurons to generate a new response” (Dewey, Hoffman, & Rudowsky, 2003, p. 250).

The memory is believed to be stored in the synapse where communication between the nerve cells takes place (Okano, Hirano, Balaban, 2004). The extension of memory takes place due to synapse plasticity. This plasticity is induced by the conditioning stimulation, though how exactly this plasticity is implicated in memory and learning still remains unknown.

Reference List

Boller, F., Cerman, L.S., & Grafman, J. (2000). Handbook of Neuropsychology: Memory and its disorders. London: Elsevier Health Sciences.

Dewey, C.W., Hoffman, A.G., Rudowsky, C. (2003). A practical guide to canine and feline neurology. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

Okano, H., Hirano, T., & Balaban, E. (2000). Learning and Memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 93(23): 12403-12404.

Pritchardm T.C. & Alloway, K.D. (2000). Medical neuroscience. Oxford: Hayes Barton Press.

Sherwood, L. (2008). Human physiology: From cells to systems. London: Cengage Learning.

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