Thursday, May 28, 2015

Front and back-brained creativity--"monkeying around" with (haptic) pronunciation change!

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One argument against extensive kinaesthetic involvement in general instruction or pronunciation teaching (using gesture and movement) has always been the superiority of "front brain" as opposed to more "back brain" learning -- or the excessive "flamboyance" of many overly "gesticular" promoters of such systems, myself included up to about a decade ago, unfortunately!

That also seemed to be supported by the apparent separation between areas of the brain involved with "higher" executive, cognitive functions such as planning and strategy use (in the prefrontal cortex) from those that have more to do with motor control and learning, for example, the "lowly" cerebellum at the back of the brain. In other words, the more conscious, cognitive insight, control and involvement "up front", probably the better.

But consider this new research by Saggar, Quintin, Kienitz, Bott, Sun, Hong, Chien, Liu, Dougherty, Royalty, Hawthorne and Reiss of Stanford University (longest list of co-authors I have ever seen!) entitled:  Pictionary-based fMRI paradigm to study the neural correlates of spontaneous improvisation and figural creativity. (Full citation below).

According to the Science Daily summary, the researchers have discovered "unexpected brain structures" that connect creativity to motor centres in the brain. In effect, they have demonstrated that motor involvement or embodiment is apparently fundamental to a much wider range of learning and cognitive functioning than thought previously.

And why was this just now revealed? Simple, perhaps. According to the authors, previous models were based primarily on earlier research with primate/monkey brains. Not surprisingly, in retrospect, the connection between thinking and moving in the monkey brain might, indeed, be a bit different than that--in at least most of our students . . . 

The research design was ingenious, using Pictionary/creative drawing tasks with fMRI monitoring of brain engagement. (Being a great fan of Pictionary, that is not surprising!) What was surprising, however, was that the motor centres in the cerebellum remained active and engaged long after the actual body movement activity had subsided, revealing the "embodied" side of what would normally be assumed to be visual/cognitive thought or processing.

In other words, the creative, improvisational activity was being carried on best, at least to some degree, outside of awareness, by what had appeared to be primarily "motor" circuits. Relatively too much pre-frontal involvement in the task was clearly counterproductive. 

One of the section subtitles of the Science Daily summary highlights a very relevant implication of that "discovery" (for haptic or other highly kinasethetic pronunciation work): 'The more you think about it, the more you mess it up' . . . Or, to quote the great Nike slogan: Just do it!

That may explain some of the current ineffectiveness of pronunciation instruction: Too much cerebellum or not quite enough!

Think about it!

Full Citation from Science (To appear soon in the Journal Scientific Reports):
Stanford University Medical Center. "Unexpected brain structures tied to creativity, and to stifling it." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 May 2015. .

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