RE: Study shows brain can learn without really trying

From: Ryan, Angela (
Date: Wed Oct 31 2001 - 13:34:13 GMT

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    Subject: RE: Study shows brain can learn without really trying
    Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 13:34:13 -0000
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    Anecdotal also; but I remember having huge difficulty understanding Jacques
    Lacan's Ecrits until I started reading a chapter casually whilst knitting
    baby clothes; patterns of meaning just seemed to fall into place because the
    front of my mind was occupied. I believe (but with no specialist knowledge)
    that this appears in Zen beliefs.
    Dr A.M.T. Ryan Agrégée de l'Université,
    Department of French,
    National University of Ireland, Cork,
    telephone + 353 21 4902552
    facsimile + 353 21 4903284

    -----Original Message-----
    From: Vincent Campbell []
    Sent: Wednesday, October 31, 2001 10:34 AM
    To: ''
    Subject: RE: Study shows brain can learn without really trying


    There was a report on this in New Scientist recently. I can't remember what
    it said (having read it through my peripheral vision :-)), so I'll dig it
    out. I don't recall much talk of subliminal learning, so much as ability to
    gain information whilst in a relaxed state brought about by focusing on
    something else (TV, music etc.).

    I think their line was more like that weird sensation you get (this may be a
    delusion I don't know) of being able to play a computer game better whilst
    having a conversation with someone else, and concentrating more on the
    conversation. I have found, on occasion, that I"ve managed to get high
    scores whilst talking to someone about something entirely unrelated to the
    game I'm playing (you can tell I work hard at my job can't you!).

    It's probably just a self delusion though, as most pro sports people talk
    about getting into the zone, where they get a kind of tunnel vision, not
    hearing the crowd etc. etc.


    > ----------
    > From: Wade T.Smith
    > Reply To:
    > Sent: Tuesday, October 30, 2001 10:29 pm
    > To: Memetics Discussion List
    > Subject: Fwd: Study shows brain can learn without really trying
    > I'm not sure, at all, that this study makes any claim for 'subliminal'
    > learning, (although I'm sure that fraud's proponents will bark that it
    > does), in fact, it appears only to ascertain to pattern-recognition and
    > other unconscious perceptions. My favorite question for people to show
    > this sort of thing, is, when looking at the moon, to ask them if it's
    > getting bigger or smaller- this would seem to me to be the sort of thing
    > that only gets picked up 'unconsciously', unless one were semi-serious
    > about their moon-gazing, which most people aren't. Although, the
    > mentioned 'next song on the album' trick is a good one.
    > - Wade
    > ****************
    > Study shows brain can learn without really trying
    > By Patricia Wen, Globe Staff, 10/30/2001
    > w
    > ithout_really_tryingP. shtml
    > Coach potatoes who aspire to intellectual greatness may have some hope: A
    > new study shows a person can focus on one thing - say TV - and soak up
    > other information on the side without even trying.
    > Whether they can pick up something as complex as Shakespeare or a foreign
    > language awaits more study. Still, a Boston University researcher this
    > week found that people absorb information in their peripheral vision -
    > they can even acquire a low-level skill - while focused entirely on
    > something else.
    > The findings, which appeared in Nature magazine this week, go further
    > than previous research in showing just what the human brain can learn
    > without consciously trying.
    > ''Even when our mind is not paying attention to extraneous information,
    > it ends up processing it,'' said Takeo Watanabe, a researcher in the
    > Boston University psychology department.
    > In his study, 72 young adults, ranging in age from 19 to 25, were asked
    > to look at a computer and identify letters that flashed rapidly across
    > the screen. Next to half of the participants sat a separate screen,
    > displaying gray dots, much like the visual snow on a television set with
    > bad reception. Unbeknownst to the subjects, 5 percent of the gray dots
    > were moving in the same direction, a pattern that was barely discernable
    > to the naked eye.
    > Later, both groups were tested on their ability to look at a television
    > screen and detect any pattern of moving dots. The group that only had one
    > screen within their field of vision could not detect moving dots, even
    > when 10 percent marched in the same direction. But everyone in the group
    > who had been exposed to the peripheral screen of moving dots had an
    > enhanced ability to detect a pattern.
    > ''It means they learned something without being conscious of it,''
    > Watanabe said.
    > Only further study will show, however, if the subliminal learning came at
    > a cost to the main task, answering questions such as: If a teenager
    > writes a book report while peripherally seeing French vocabulary words,
    > will the quality of his or her paper suffer?
    > Researchers in the field say that's a key question, one that will help
    > ordinary people figure out whether they should seek out - or avoid - a
    > split-screen learning environment.
    > ''Is there a cost to this?'' said Daniel Schacter, a psychology professor
    > at Harvard University. ''You'd think there would be, but it's hard to
    > guess this one.''
    > Past work in the area of subliminal or implicit learning focused on what
    > the brain picked up without trying to, though the extraneous information
    > usually related to the main task.
    > Examples of this include a driver knowing just what song will play next
    > on the car's tape player, not because of a conscious attempt to learn the
    > order but because they just heard the sequence so many times, said Marcel
    > Just, codirector of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie
    > Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa.
    > Watanabe said he hopes to learn more about just what kinds of skills can
    > be picked up in a subliminal way, and if they can enter the brain through
    > other channels, such as listening.
    > Regardless of the future role of implicit learning, Watanabe said this
    > kind of learning has long helped the human species survive. He said, for
    > instance, that someone could walk down a street while talking to a friend
    > and implicitly pick up that cars are driving in a particular direction.
    > While paying attention only to the conversation, part of the brain is
    > ''sensitized'' to the direction of the cars to avoid an accident, he said.
    > ''Without that knowledge, we'd be in much more danger,'' he said.
    > Patricia Wen can be reached by
    > e-mail at
    > This story ran on page C1 of the Boston Globe on 10/30/2001.
    > (c) Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.
    > ==============================================================This was
    > distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    > Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    > For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    > see:

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