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BRAIN Initiative Scientific Updates: How the Human Brain Learns to Learn

Presented At:
LabRoots – Neuroscience Virtual Event 2019

Presented By:
Elizabeth Buffalo, PhD – Professor, Department of Physiology & Biophysics, Neuroscience Focus Group, University of Washington

Speaker Biography:
Beth Buffalo is Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Washington and serves as the Chief of the Neuroscience Division of the Washington National Primate Research Center. She received her PhD in Neuroscience from the University of California, San Diego and was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Buffalo is a leading investigator in systems and cognitive neuroscience, and she has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying memory in the primate brain. Her research has been supported by awards from the NIH, the Simons Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, Pfizer, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Dr. Buffalo was the 2011 recipient of the Troland Research Award from the National Academy of Sciences for her innovative, multidisciplinary study of the hippocampus and the neural basis of memory.

BRAIN Initiative Scientific Updates: How the Human Brain Learns to Learn

Webinar Abstract:
The human brain has a remarkable ability to store and retrieve information. Detailed memories can be formed after as little as one exposure, and those memories can be retained for decades. Importantly, recent studies have demonstrated the critical role of a mental “schema”, or a learned cognitive structure, in supporting rapid memory formation. In essence, previously acquired knowledge provides a framework that shapes how ongoing experience is perceived and remembered. This resonates with the older idea from neuropsychology of “learning to learn” as a mechanism by which rapid learning might be accomplished. Learning to learn is thought to facilitate new learning by reducing the dimensionality of the space that the organism has to search to adapt to novel problems. The development of a schema that supports this kind of rapid learning is thought to involve interactions between the hippocampus and the neocortex. However, the neural circuitry that underlies this kind of rapid, one-trial, learning is not well-understood.

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