September 2019 research round-up

Research highlights in learning and education from around the world ⎮ 3 min read

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Neuromyths and teacher training

There are hopes that applying knowledge of neuroscience and cognitive psychology to the realm of education will improve learning outcomes. For this to be effective, teachers should apply a critical lens to claims made in the neuroeducation landscape. However the prevalence of neuromyths – or misconceptions about the brain and learning – amongst teachers suggests this is not always the case.

In this study, primary teacher trainees took part in a workshop that addressed various neuromyths, provided alongside contextual neuroscience learning materials. This training slightly improved participants’ understanding of neuroplasticity, improved their awareness of neuromyths, increased their willingness to critique brain-oriented learning claims, and made them more confident in digesting scientific information. The authors suggest that neuromyths can help teachers become more critical consumers of neuroscience-based claims in education.

McMahon et al. (2019) The impact of a modified initial teacher education on challenging trainees’ understanding of neuromyths. Mind, Brain, and Education DOI:

Training attention through neurofeedback

Attention is a key building block for learning, but is typically viewed as a fixed or unimprovable trait. If sustained attention can be trained, however – particularly in today’s increasingly distraction-filled world – the opportunities for learning increase.

Neurofeedback training (NFT) offers this opportunity. It gives users real-time feedback on their brain activity – when attention sags, a visual or auditory signal prompts the user to actively adjust their brain state and refocus their attention.

After covering the evidence for NFT as an aid for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, this review article explores what is needed to make laboratory-based studies of NFT applicable to the classroom setting. They emphasise co-construction of paradigms according to school needs, with the belief that attention training through neurofeedback can realistically be implemented in schools to improve learning.

Krell et al. (2019) Bridging the gap between theory and practice in neurofeedback training for attention. Mind, Brain, and Education DOI:

Student perceptions of passive vs. active learning

Active learning is superior to passive forms such as a spoken lecture. Despite this, most university courses continue to deliver passive lectures. Reasons for this include limited time and resources, and a belief that students prefer traditional forms of content delivery.

This study tested whether students mistakenly thought that active learning processes produced poorer results. Indeed, although active learning resulted in better test performance (as expected), students perceived their learning to be inferior to the passive condition. Active learning also produced lower enjoyment of lectures and lower ratings of instructor effectiveness. The authors caution that students’ inaccurate, negative impressions of active learning could make them favor the less effective passive approach when choosing classes. Thus when choosing active modes of learning, instructors should address these misconceptions amongst their students.

Deslauriers et al. (2019) Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116(39): 19251-19257. DOI:

The impact of REM sleep on emotional memory consolidation

“Sleep on it” is sage advice for someone in a highly emotional state, the belief being that after a good night of rest, the emotion will have subsided. Indeed, quality sleep is thought to allow brain circuits involving the amygdala – an emotion centre – to reorganize, thereby reducing the emotional impact of memories.

In this study, researchers tested whether the quality of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep affects the emotional strength of memories – this is not the ability to recall the memory, but rather the strength of the emotional content attached. They found that amygdala activity was reduced with uninterrupted REM sleep, but not with disrupted REM sleep. Thus, quality REM sleep is important in downgrading the emotional content of memories. The authors suggest this knowledge could be helpful for people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Wassing et al. (2019) Restless REM sleep impedes overnight amygdala adaptation. Current Biology 29(14): P2351-2358.E4. DOI:

Alan Woodruff

Community Editor, Queensland Brain Institute