In modern psychology, there is a common saying, “the neurons that fire together, wire together.” This was first shared by Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb almost 70 years ago. The quote means memory or focus is increased on a subject when there is emotion attached to it. The brain has been said to have a negativity bias (an emotional attachment to all things negative) which is why when someone crosses us, we latch on to that memory and stew on it all day or longer. But happy thoughts and emotions are also connect to your memories.
What does science say about all this? Memories are processed through the hippocampus, which is the close neighbor to the amygdala, and part of the Limbic System. Both the hippocampus and the amygdala serve a similar cause, to process memories and emotions for storage. When emotions and memories are tied together, they can solidify in a student’s mind. Therefore, when a student is bored, or exhausted while cramming, they’ll have more recollection of negative feelings than the materials they were studying. Yet, when they enjoy what they’re learning, reading, or doing, they are more likely to remember the information because it’s attached to positive emotions.
How does knowing this help us learn more effectively and efficiently? When we attach positive emotions to learning, we are more likely to remember what’s being taught. That’s why lectures are said to have only a 10% retention rate, reading a 20% retention, and those learned by audio and video a 30% retention rate. At the same time, when we do activities, learn about something we enjoy, or play with the information we need to process, this gives us a return of up to 70-90% retention.
Using games and activities with the subjects we need to learn, means we’ll retain more. The more information we remember, the less learning becomes a chore and the more it becomes a feast of knowledge.
When a child grows up in an area with red birds called “cardinals,” the child will commit the name to memory through exposure and repetition. This is called Hebbian Plasticity, which claims that repetition helps your brain remember and make connections with material you’re exposed to and learning about.
Children in other cultures continue to work harder and longer with repetition in order to better themselves. These students often don’t feel entitled to the luxuries or safety nets we, in the United States, are promised. For this reason, they strive to obtain these memories of facts and figures.
We can use both Hebbian Plasticity and positive learning environments to better our education. If we enjoy learning so much that we desire to do it again and again, then we’ll retain more information!
Mental Blocks and Emotions
There is another block that negative emotions create. When a student stresses out or has anxiety over an assessment or test, it hinders memories from being accessed. Stopping the flow of these memories is called a memory block. Memories can be translated into actions, such as answering simple questions, but when the memory is blocked, it makes performing the action feel impossible. Educators and curriculum creators must learn to work with students to help them overcome these memory blocks.
When it comes to education, we need to find new ways to help students retain the information they learn. We must make education more enjoyable, so students desire more repetition in their studies. Let’s find new ways to enjoy the information we’re learning and teaching. This can be done through activities, games, and other processes that will stimulate the neurons to fire together so they wire together.
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