Thursday, June 29, 2006

Learning Without Awareness - Habit Learning

Aristotle once said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit."

This latest paper reminds us of the importance of Habit. Aristotle's good habits may have started as conscious decisions - but with time, their mere repetition allow them to become autonomic, or without thought. In this paper, two study subjects who suffered the ravages of medial temporal lobe injury were found to be capable of learning - although they did not have any conscious awareness of what they had learned.

The figure below shows the clear-cut learning curve of one individual. The white bar shows that learning was retained even the patient had now awarenes of what he had learned. The gray bars showed that this training did not generalize to a slightly different task.

This kind of learning by habit - doesn't require awareness - so children (or adults for that matter) are learning by association and experience, but won't necessarily know that they have learned anything. One can see that they have learned by observing that they can make the proper choices and make previously-learned discriminations.

Sometimes this learning without awareness can be seen in children who seem to perform abysmally on formal testing, and yet seem to know much more than tests can show. So parents, and teachers be encouraged.

I recall patient survivors of HSE thought to be untrainable - because it seemed that their memory was so severely affected. But really what was wanting was that we needed to be better trained to see what their possibilities in learning could be.

So who does this apply to? Well habit-based learning works for everybody, but it may be the main route of learning for folks with significant temporal lobe injury (e.g. like head trauma, autism, or seizures). The fact that these patients had trouble generalizing the task is due to the extent of the temporal lobe injury - because the temporal lobes harbor ones personal autobiographical history - the learning of context can be difficult, but not impossible - it just requires systematic training and the presentation of many specific examples.

Habit from William James
Habits of Critical Thought
Teaching Routines in Autism
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Children with Autism and Specific Language Impairment Learn Idioms By Context
Moral Habits

1 comment:

  1. Nice commentary on the process, problems and possibilities of learning anything new! Thanks for the great post.

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