Is learning enhanced by a multisensory approach?

A new study discusses whether cognitive learning is more effective when using all the senses as opposed to unimodal practices
Published in Neuroscience
Is learning enhanced by a multisensory approach?

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Multisensory guided associative learning in healthy humans

Associative learning is a basic cognitive function by which discrete and often different percepts are linked together. The Rutgers Acquired Equivalence Test investigates a specific kind of associative learning, visually guided equivalence learning. The test consists of an acquisition (pair learning) and a test (rule transfer) phase, which are associated primarily with the function of the basal ganglia and the hippocampi, respectively. Earlier studies described that both fundamentally-involved brain structures in the visual associative learning, the basal ganglia and the hippocampi, receive not only visual but also multisensory information. However, no study has investigated whether there is a priority for multisensory guided equivalence learning compared to unimodal ones. Thus we had no data about the modality-dependence or independence of the equivalence learning. In the present study, we have therefore introduced the auditory- and multisensory (audiovisual)-guided equivalence learning paradigms and investigated the performance of 151 healthy volunteers in the visual as well as in the auditory and multisensory paradigms. Our results indicated that visual, auditory and multisensory guided associative learning is similarly effective in healthy humans, which suggest that the acquisition phase is fairly independent from the modality of the stimuli. On the other hand, in the test phase, where participants were presented with acquisitions that were learned earlier and associations that were until then not seen or heard but predictable, the multisensory stimuli elicited the best performance. The test phase, especially its generalization part, seems to be a harder cognitive task, where the multisensory information processing could improve the performance of the participants.

A new study led by Gabriella Eordegh assessed whether multisensory approaches enhanced associative learning, when compared to unimodal practices. 'Associative learning' is basically learning a connection exists between two events or stimuli. Traditionally, a neutral stimulus is paired with a known stimulus, until the neutral stimulus attracts a response independently. The researchers developed a multisensory version of the Rutgers Acquired Equivalence Test to investigate their hypothesis. 

151 adults participated in three separate instruction activities - auditory (sound association), visual (pairing images) and multisensory (matching an image to a sound), with similar stimuli presented in both the visual and multisensory approaches. Data from the acquisition and test phases was collected and of the total participants, only the results from 141 volunteers was analysed. 

The study concluded the multisensory approach to cognitive learning, improved recall during the test phase but showed no difference when compared to the effects of the visual or auditory methods during the learning phase. For more details about the results of the research teams study, the article Multisensory guided associative learning in healthy humans was published by the Journal PLoS ONE. 

Reference: Eördegh G, Őze A, Bodosi B, Puszta A, Pertich Á, Rosu A, et al. (2019) Multisensory guided associative learning in healthy humans. PLoS ONE 14(3): e0213094

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