Cover image for Learn faster & remember more : the developing brain, the maturing years and the experienced mind
Learn faster & remember more : the developing brain, the maturing years and the experienced mind
Gamon, David.
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Publication Information:
Cape Cod, Mass. : Brainwaves Center, [2001]

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320 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
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BF318 .G36 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Author Notes

David Gamon, Ph.D., is the coauthor of Building Mental Muscle and Building Left Brain Power. He lives in Oakland, California.



Chapter One Learning in the Womb Evolution has endowed human babies with an incredible ability to learn Human babies come helpless and dependent into the world, more so than the young of any other species. A baby elk can stand a few hours after birth, and run within a day. On the other hand, human babies, with their eager, adaptable brains, are able to learn far more in their first two years of life than an animal ever will. They can even master the basics of the miraculously complex, uniquely human skill -- language. Why Is the Human Brain Less Mature at Birth Than the Brains of Other Primates? A leading theory is based on the fact that humans walked upright while their ancestors used their arms as forelegs, walking on their knuckles as the apes do. Perhaps the first humans stood upright so they could see above the grasses in the savannas in order to spot predators and game. (This may account for the weaker sense of smell in humans.) Upright posture may also have allowed their bodies to keep cool by venting heat through the head into the moving air above the grasses.     In the course of evolution the upright position must have shifted weight to the pelvis, which thickened to bear it, closing down the birth opening. As the pelvis was thickening, the head of the fetus continued to grow larger to accommodate the constantly enlarging brain. Whatever the reasons, the human fetus had to be born well before the brain and head had reached maturity so it would still be small enough to pass through the birth canal. Are babies able to learn while still in the womb? The powerful need that a baby has to learn is matched by an unusual ability which unfolds gradually in the infant brain. Its helplessness acts as a powerful motivator to figure out how to survive in its new environment when it can no longer depend on the peaceful, protected life in the womb where learning had already started. Investigators into the development of infant learning and memory have discovered that fetuses are not only listening to what's going on outside the womb, but are already capable of some basic kinds of learning and remembering. In other words, even before we're born, we're forming memories. Memories formed in the womb Any mother knows that her baby prefers her voice to that of any other person. That isn't just motherly conceit. Even before three days of age, newborns are capable of telling their mother's voice apart from other women's voices. Not only that, they're so fond of their own mother's voice they'll do whatever's in their power to hear it. Psychologists know this because of experiments in which a newborn infant is permitted to "produce" a voice -- turn on a recording of a woman reading a story -- by sucking on a specially-rigged pacifier. If it's their own mother's voice they turn on by sucking, they'll do so more vigorously and frequently than if it's the voice of some other woman. (New or prospective fathers might find it interesting to know that a fetus does not learn this kind of preference for its father's voice or, for that matter, for any voice coming from outside the body holding the womb. So don't feel hurt if your baby pays less attention to you.)     It takes a newborn a little longer to recognize its mother by her face. Since there's no way a baby can come into the world already armed with the knowledge of what its mother looks like, it has to learn this after birth -- by matching the mother's voice to the face it's coming from. At one month, infants can match their mother's voice to her face. They prove it by looking at the mother's face, and ignoring the face of another woman sitting by her side, when a tape-recording of the mother's voice is played. After about three months, an infant can pick out its mother by sight alone.     One might think the newborn could have learned a preference for its mother's voice while bonding with the mother just after birth. But it goes deeper than that. In an experiment in which pregnant mothers read a certain story out loud once a week for the last six weeks of pregnancy, their newborns turned out to prefer that story to others. Another study showed that when pregnant women sing a certain melody once a day during the last two weeks of pregnancy, the babies prefer that melody to an unfamiliar one after they're born. So babies can not only hear their mother's voice while in the womb and recognize it after birth, they're even capable of attending to and remembering some of the finer details of what they hear, down to specific melodies and perhaps even the sounds of particular words. How we know what a fetus learns Other studies have even gone inside the womb to explore the capacity of third-trimester fetuses to learn. How can such an experiment be done? If you make a noise by placing a "vibroacoustic stimulator" against a pregnant mother's abdomen, the fetus will move. If this is done repeatedly the fetus will eventually stop moving in response to the noise. That shows that the fetus has habituated -- it has learned to recognize the sound and tune it out. A fetus will show the effects of this simple kind of learning -- responding less persistently to the same stimulus reapplied in the future -- not just after ten minutes, but even after 24 hours.     But don't rush out to buy a Latin Primer to tutor your unborn baby in the classics. Habituation is a kind of learning so basic that we share it with fruit flies and sea slugs. There is no evidence that newborns understand the meaning of what they have heard.     If, however, survival of a helpless newborn depends on bonding with the mother immediately after birth, presumably an infant's brain must be sufficiently developed to recognize matters essential for its post-natal well-being. Therefore, the bonding process must begin prior to birth. As we've seen, to conserve energy the fetus is able to learn not to react when a new event has proven that it is not a danger. To identify its food-source later on, the fetus acquires the life-preserving ability to recognize and crave the sound of its mother's voice. Research indicates that while still in the womb, the fetus acquires a preference for foods the mother eats, say carrots, and carries that preference with it into the world. Whether an infant inherits its mother's third-trimester cravings remains speculative. Excerpted from Learn Faster & Remember More by David Gamon, Ph.D. and Allen D. Bragdon. Copyright (c) 2001 by Allen D. Bragdon Publishers, Inc.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.