How does your brain work when you are teaching? A new study published by researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London and University of Oxford, has identified the parts of the brain involved in computing mistakes in other people's understanding, a key process in guiding students' learning.
In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, and reported by BBC news, volunteers were asked to act as a teacher whilst they underwent an MRI scan. While in the scanner the ‘teacher’ observed the responses of another volunteer, acting as a student, playing a computer game together. The task of the teacher in the scanner was to give the student volunteer feedback. Using mathematical modelling to analyse the brain imaging data, the researchers found that a region of the teachers' brain called the anterior cingulate cortex signalled how wrong the beliefs of the student were during the game. "For teachers, understanding what your students believe is a vital part of the teaching process, allowing meaningful and useful feedback to be provided", said Dr. Matthew Apps, who ran the study at Royal Holloway, University of London but is now at the University of Oxford. "Our study has identified some of the key structures and computations in the human brain that are involved when one person is teaching another. "These findings provide the foundations for future research exploring how the brain works when people are teaching others." Professor Narender Ramnani, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, said: "Our formative years are often shaped by interactions with our teachers, but very little is known about the mechanisms that underpin the teaching process in the human brain. "These findings have implications for understanding how the brains of teachers compute errors in their students' understanding, and how teachers provide feedback that guides student learning.