27 April 2016, 17:30 — 18:30

Going back to school: Learning in multisensory environments

Room 74 (2nd floor)


Dear Students,

You are invited to take part in an open lecture by Pawel Matusz, PhD (University Hospital of Lausanne), entitled Going back to school: Learning in multisensory environments. There will be a discussion after the lecture.

When and where: Wed, 27 Apr, 17:30, room 74

Abstract: Over the past 40 years, unparalleled advances have been made in the understanding of sensory processing, the top-down mechanisms that control it (most notably, attention) as well as how these develop with age and experience. One notable discovery is that the brain integrates information appearing in multiple senses at once to improve perception and behaviour and, more recently, does so via multiple distinct processes. The second one was the wave of pioneering investigations into the mechanisms whereby the attributes of real-world learning environments (home or the classroom) - being social, structured yet resource-demanding and, again, multisensory - facilitate learning. Research within each of these respective areas, typically supported by brain mapping studies, has laid the necessary foundations to now provide more accurate models of cognitive development and learning (e.g., reading or numeracy). Using a multisensory, age-appropriate version of the response-competition task (Lavie & Cox, 1997), we showed that school-entering children, but not older children or adults, are “shielded” by increased task demands from interference by familiar audiovisual objects (coloured shapes). In a pilot study using more education-relevant stimuli, i.e., Arabic numerals and digit labels, we revealed the strength of this interference to be linked with numeracy skills assessed with a separate, visual task. Thus, expertise in perceptual processing of objects from a given (multisensory) category seems to control one’s attention and do so via enabling preferential selection of such objects. Second, using a continuous visual-object ‘old/new’ discrimination task (Schnider, 2003; Murray et al. 2004), we demonstrated that children, alike adults, benefit from multisensory presentations of the memorised objects - however, the strength of such benefits depends on whether the children have undergone public or Montessori-style schooling. Together, these findings underline the advantages associated with adapting rigorous and well-understood experimental tasks from adult research to multisensory, age-appropriate and cross-sectional experimental setups. Such mechanistic approaches (1) enable one to distil the processes contributing to processing objects from a specific category in naturalistic environments as one becomes more skilled at their processing, and (2) bring us closer to understanding which of the maturational sensory, top-down cognitive-control and experience-based mechanisms that interact with each other throughout development impact the expression of these processes most at a given age. Consequently, these can inform the existing models of brain and cognitive development, support better targeted and thus effective educational interventions, as well as lead to more accurate general models of brain/cognitive functioning and learning in real-world environments.