Directors: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani
Optical topography opens up new possibilities for Neuroeducation
Optical topography (OT) is a noninvasive imaging modality used to assess cortical hemodynamics (oxy-Hb and deoxy-Hb signals) related to functional brain activation. This technique is particularly useful for studying infants and children because of its high level of safety and because there are fewer constraints on participants. With these advantages, OT is expected to reveal the developing process of the human brain at its first stage. In this presentation, I will talk about two OT studies on brain functions related to teaching and learning.
The first study was aimed at examining the cognitive process of speech perception in 16 newborns (1-7 days after birth). The process of language learning (acquisition) has not yet been clarified, and understanding the brain mechanism for language learning will further our understanding of the general process of learning. We developed a whole-head probe-cap for newborns in order to investigate the area of the brain that is activated when there are speech sounds. We measured cortical activity in Japanese newborns while they were listening to four sound stimuli: the mother tongue, Japanese played forward (JFW), Japanese played backward (JBW), the foreign language, English played forward (EFW), and English played backward (EBW). Statistical analyses showed the activation areas for each sound located in the bilateral temporal and frontal regions. In the activation areas, the Hb-signals for the JFW stimuli were larger than those for the JBW ones while no significant difference was found between the responses for the EFW and for the EBW ones. This result suggests that an infant’s brain that is only a few days old shows an adaptation process to JFW stimuli, i.e., the mother tongue, and the bilateral temporal and frontal regions underlie the adaptation process.
The second is a preliminary study of parent-child communication by using newly developed prototype of the wearable OT (WOT) system. The WOT system for observing prefrontal region consists of wearable units that weigh about 1 kg and can simultaneously measure the brain functions of up to 24 participants. We used the WOT units to measure the brain activity of a mother (31 years old) and of her child (4 years old) while they were playing together in a room. Our analysis focused on their eye contact, and we found that oxy-Hb signals tended to increase after they made eye-to-eye contact. This result suggests that using WOT can enable us to visualize the attention process to the other person in communication. However, these are only preliminary results, and we need to carry out more experiments.
These two studies show the possibility for studying brain mechanisms of children who are at their first stage of learning. Moreover, we think that we can study the teaching and learning process in classrooms by using simultaneous WOT measurements for both students and teachers. The use of OT and WOT, thus, opens up new possibilities for studying the brain mechanisms that are involved in teaching and learning in everyday life.