Directors: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani
Imaging of brain functions in education
From a neuroscience viewpoint, learning is for a learner the process of developing neural circuits after receiving external stimulations from the environment (anything and everything other than him/herself), whereas education is the process of controlling and complementing the external stimulations the learner has experienced and encouraging his/her learning. Accordingly, checking the development of neural circuits, that is, changes that derive from learning and education, allows us to clarify the basic mechanisms of learning and education and apply them to broader relevant fields. To check the functions of neural circuits, which have relevance to intelligence and affect, it is important to observe the brain functions of the learner. In line with this purpose, we have developed several non-invasive brain function imaging methods such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and near-infrared optical topography (NIR-OT).
On the other hand, one challenge surrounding Mind, Brain and Education (MBE) is to transcend the borders of natural science and human/social science to bridge and fuse different academic disciplines. Studies on MBE require close collaboration between major disciplines, for example, psychology, neurophysiology and pedagogy. A transdisciplinary approach that has clear strategies and methodology becomes necessary to substantially bridge disparate disciplines. The NIR-OT allows us to demonstrably observe some mental activity as it is capable of drawing images of the functional areas in the cerebral cortex that are activated with a given behavioral or mental process under natural conditions. In other words, the NIR-OT may be, through direct observation of some mental activity, a methodology to bridge natural science and human/social science. In addition, wearable optical topography (WOT) has the potential for simultaneous measurements of a group covering multiple subjects, for example, a teacher and students in a classroom. Furthermore, the NIR-OT’s possibility of demonstrably verifying the group dynamics, which is associated with economics or sociology, is substantially different from the fMRI.
The nervous system of mankind consists of a huge number of nerve cells and is a complex system, in principle. Therefore, a macroscopic observation is necessary to examine such a complex system composed of a huge number of nerve cells, thereby non-invasive brain function imaging would be important. Meanwhile, the functions of nerve cells cannot be accurately identified without the aid of microscopic observation. However, it is difficult to apply microscopic observation to the human body; therefore, animal experiments are inevitable. The nature of humanity could be elucidated only when both the macroscopic and microscopic approaches fully work in a concerted manner. Advanced scientific research on the brain in the future would be to search cross-sectional and longitudinal research themes using this new non-invasive brain function imaging method with the aim of integrating basic neurophysiology based on animal experiments and new brain science for mankind including mental activity.
Taking the opportunity to develop various non-invasive brain function imaging methods, one of the coauthors (Koizumi) has endeavoured to create a series of new concepts and new fields by bridging and fusing brain science and human/social science with a transdisciplinary methodology. For example, “Brain-Science & Education,” “Brain-Science & Ethics,” “Brain-Science & Economics” and “Brain-Science & the Arts” are included. This time, the author Koizumi would like to present another new concept: “Brain-Science & Social Norms.” (Appendix)