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maggie_simon's picture

How might learning be a function of the inhibition of neurons?

Since corollary discharge signals are the communication between two groups of neurons in which the first group informs the second group as to what that first group is doing, we determined in class that corollary discharge must play an important role in coordinated movement, i.e., central pattern generation.  We also learned that the neo-cortex and motor cortex allow us to produce new movements (they help us to learn new ways of moving or using our bodies) by inhibiting parts of the nervous system (possibly central pattern generation).  I can think of two ways in which a central pattern can be inhibited:  

     1) inhibit some of the individual motor neurons that play a role in the central pattern (so the neurons will still receive signals from the corollary discharge telling them to fire but they will be unable to do so, or if their receptors are inhibited, the corollary discharge will still be sending signals, but the motor neuron will be unable to receive them)

     2) inhibit corollary discharge signals (so a group of neurons will be firing, but they will not be informing other groups that they are doing so, and so any communication between groups in which one group tells the other group to begin firing will be lost, and that second group will seem to have been inhibited from its role in the central pattern)

With the first case, I guess the neo and motor cortexes take a central pattern or a couple of central patterns and let them run, but inhibit those parts of the pattern that do not fit in with the new movement that the brain is trying to produce.  The second case seems to stop the central pattern all together, and so to generate new movement it appears that some part of the brain will need to stimulate each of the appropriate motor neurons to fire.  It is possible that neither of these cases are the correct way of understanding this process of learning, or it is also possible that learning in a physical sense is a combination of these two approaches (and possibly combined with other approaches as well).

  

             I wonder if learning in the mental sense (in which we are gaining knowledge, or training our minds how to approach or think about a problem or discipline), or the emotional sense (what many people call “growing”) happens in the same way as this sort of physical learning (learning to play an instrument, a skill, a dance or a sport)?

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