Thursday, December 22, 2011

A big "Yay!" for habit learning!

Finally got out on a mat again yesterday at a less populated peak but with pretty poorly shaped waves. Basically a take off, drop in, bit of a bottom turn and that was it. But hey it was nice to feel the aliveness of a mat underneath me again. I was interested to note as I was going right and performing a bottom turn how automatically I squeezed the left corner of the mat and pulled it up to commence the turn and how instantaneously the inner fin kicked in to steady my line when it was needed. Now nobody has instructed me to do that it has come about through repetition and trial-and-error.
Having been a teacher for over 30 years this still fascinates me so I did a little research here.
Humans have a particularly capacity to learn and retain information unconsciously retaining so-called habit memory even when conscious or declarative learning is absent. Because our temporal based declarative memory based, the one that is used for active learning and memorisation, is so dominant, there is actually not a great deal of understanding about habit learning in humans which is believed to be retained in an area of the brain known as the basal ganglia.
Testing on patients with temporal lobe damage has shown that they can learn to do something correctly through a process of repetition even as they are expressing aloud "How am I doing this?". This helps to explain why a patient with amnesia can still navigate their way around their neighbourhood using their habit memory.
The habit learning system is working all the time behind the scenes, in addition to my conscious learning system, independently shaping who I am and how I behave, and so adeptly assisting me to learn to ride a mat 'cos there ain't no teachers around here!

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