The Brain’s Amuse Bouche

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A new study found that the brain automatically tries to acquire new knowledge irrespective of whether an individual is actively trying to learn, BBC’s Science Focus reported.

In a new study, a research team designed a series of computer game experiments to test the latent learning abilities of participants.

In one experiment, participants played a game involving colorful imaginary creatures belonging to two categories, “flurps” and “jalets.” Scientists, however, did not tell the volunteers that the creatures belonged to one of the categories based on features, such as hand or tail color.

The experiment then moved to the “explicit learning” phase, which saw researchers teaching participants how to identify the creatures and their categories. The results were then compared to those of a control group that had previously been instructed to play a game using a different set of fictitious creatures.

Lead author Layla Unger said the findings showed that volunteers who had early exposure to the categories could learn faster than those in the control group.

“Then when the explicit learning came, it was easier to attach a label to those distributions and form the categories,” she noted.

The study is one of the few to provide experimental evidence that people can learn about things they have never encountered before – and are not actively trying to understand – by simply being exposed to them.

“It has been very difficult to diagnose when latent learning is occurring,” said co-author Vladimir Sloutsky. “But this research was able to differentiate between latent learning and what people learn during explicit teaching.”

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