A recent study: the mind is always ready to learn, with or without purpose | SCIENCE

The learning process gives us different experiences by memorizing a set of information and retrieving it later. However, the child does not need, for example, attending school lessons to distinguish dogs from cats, as he can classify them. as different. creatures from each other simply observing them in his daily life.

Scientists call this type of learning “latent learning” or “unconscious learning”, and according to the Simple Psychology website, latent learning is an involuntary process by which a person distinguishes different things without consciousness or its purpose, and it is learning that it is not. reinforced by behaviors. , which means that the individual does not learn to obey the orders of others, as is the case in encouraging children to remember their lessons.

The study and development of the theory of latent learning is entrusted to the American psychologist Edward Tolman.

In an effort to confirm this theory, Professor Vladimir Slutsky, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University, a researcher at the same university, and lead author of the study, Leila Unger, conducted research with the aim of providing empirical scientific evidence that proves the mind. the ability to distinguish things through accidental exposure to them without the desire to understand the nature of those things.

The results of the study were published in the journal Psychological Science on May 26th.

We gain experience as we do our usual daily activities and our minds add more categories every day (Getty Images)

People learn a lot every day without thinking about it

At the beginning of their study, the researchers explained that our life experiences contain many classifications, for example, we classify dogs as dogs based on certain criteria and consider them to be very similar despite the subtle differences between dog types in relation to with their colors and dimensions.With a 4-chambered heart, we will implicitly conclude that other species have the same heart.

Our knowledge of this information does not require the desire to learn it, but we have gained these experiences during our usual daily activities and our minds add more and more new categories and segments within a category every day automatically.

Professor Slutsky reviews the results of the study, saying: “We notice new things around us without wanting to know what they are and we find that this exposure leaves an impression in our brain that makes us willing to learn more about those things. at a later time. “

How our minds classify things
The study involved performing 5 experiments on 438 people in order to determine the effect of latent learning (Shutterstock)

The effect of accidental exposure to objects in the lesson

The study involved conducting 5 experiments with 438 people in order to determine the effect of latent learning on our learning abilities, and each experiment was divided into two phases, the first is called the “exposure phase”, during which the subjects interacted with a simple computer game that involves viewing colorful images and unfamiliar creatures, without giving any information about those creatures.

The researchers divided the creatures into two categories (A) and (B), and these creatures possessed different characteristics, such as different colors of their hands and tails. Creatures from both categories were shown to the participants, except for the control group, whose members saw another group of creatures that were not in categories A and B.

During the next phase of the experiment called “explicit learning”, participants learned more information about these creatures, such as the names of the two classes and how to identify the creatures that belong to each. The final step is to measure how quickly participants learn to distinguish between the creatures of the two classes.

Unger explains the result of the previous experiment, saying: “We found that the learning of individuals who were previously exposed to images of creatures was faster compared to members of the comparison group. Blue tails tend to have brown hands. clear stage learning, it became easier for them to sort the creatures into segments. “

How our minds classify things
Participants who had previously seen pictures of creatures were able to learn to distinguish differences (Getty Images)

A new experiment to support the results

In an attempt to confirm the results, the researchers conducted an experiment similar to the first, during which they displayed pictures of the same creatures with a specific sound that was transmitted when each picture was displayed, and participants were asked to press a button when they heard the same voice twice in a row.

“We matched the images and sounds randomly, which did not help the participants to distinguish those sounds,” says Slutsky. “In fact, participants could leave the images completely, but their performance was not negatively affected.”

As in the first experiment, participants who had seen pictures of creatures beforehand were able to learn how to distinguish the differences between the two groups and classify the creatures during the clear learning phase and in a shorter time compared to member performance. of the experiment group.

Previous findings raised an important question: were participants likely to have learned the differences between the two categories of creatures during their initial exposure to their images without having to go through the clear learning phase? Unger responded negatively.

How our minds classify things
This study was able to distinguish between what a person learns during the latent and explicit learning phases (Shutterstock)

Latent learning does not replace explicit learning

To support this answer, during some experiments, a computer game showed one of the creatures in the middle of the screen jumping left or right, and participants were asked to press a button if the creature jumped right and another button if it jumped. on the left.

The participants in the experiment did not know an important fact: the first category creatures always jump to the right, and the second category creatures always jump to the left. If participants understand this fact, their responses by pressing the appropriate button will be faster.

In contrast to the previous two experiments, the results showed that the response speed of the participants in the experiment did not increase, i.e. they could not learn or distinguish the differences between the characteristics of the creatures of the two groups during the exposure phase.

Slutsky explains this result, explaining, “The exposure phase left an impression of the creatures on the participants, but it was not enough to distinguish and classify the differences between the creatures, however this early exposure facilitated later learning.”

He added, “This study was able to distinguish between what a person learns during the latent and explicit learning phases, and is one of the few studies that showed evidence of latent learning.”

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