Motor skills like riding a bike or playing the piano may be easily mastered by some people, yet would be difficult to impart to others.
These motor skills are learned in one part of the brain, whereas classroom instruction and information read in a book are acquired in another area of the brain, explained F. Gregory Ashby, professor and chair of UC Santa Barbara's Department of Psychology. This second area of learning is the frontal cortex -- the area immediately behind the forehead -- where executive function is located.
A study of different categories of learning is reported by Ashby and his research team in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience
. A group of 16 UCSB undergraduates took part in thousands of visual tests, so the psychologists could study their responses. A significant number of the trials took place in the university's brain imaging scanner using fMRI, which allowed the scientists to observe areas of the brain during testing.
The team found that tasks with explicit reasoning behind them were much simpler for test subjects. "When you can't explain the reasoning, it takes test subjects about 10 times as many trials to master," said Ashby.