A Survey of Functional Brain Imaging Applications in the Study of Learning and Learning Differences


Thanks to technological advancements made over the past few years, a revolution has begun to take place in the study of how we human beings use our brains. With the advent of functional brain imaging (FBI), some have even gone so far as to speculate that one day imaging may provide us with information concerning individual learning styles and differences which is detailed enough to aid in the development of appropriate teaching methods. Although the complexity of the human brain may prove the latter to be a practical impossibility, FBI has already begun to deepen our understanding of medicinal treatments for conditions which affect learning and behavior, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The current and future importance of FBI, and the resulting merger between psychology and neurology into the field now referred to as cognitive neuroscience, is both undeniable and thrilling.

We will try (when posible) to avoid using the term learning "disability." Perhaps one of the most important lessons which we are just beginning to learn (both through the help of functional imaging and an increasing social awareness and acceptance of different learning styles) is that all brains are unique--in obvious as well as subtle and intricate ways. In many respects no two brains are alike, and thus it may never be possible to completely unravel and generalize all the mysteries of neurology and cognition. With this in mind, who can say what is a normal or abnormal way to process information? There seem to be both some advantages and disadvantages to most methods of learning. Often, the most disabling of the latter is the plethora of difficulties created for those who learn differently than what is believed to be the norm, and yet are subjected to a system of education to which (for reasons which may be biological, emotional, or both) they cannot or do not naturally adapt.

The following pages are not the product of our own personal (scientific) research, but rather an organized summary of information derived from many sources, inspired by an educated interest in learning and the use of functional imaging in the study of human cognition. We provide what we hope to be comprehensive information on the technical aspects of functional imaging, on multiple facets of learning differences (LDs), and on how the two are related. In particular, we are interested in recent applications of the FBI methods we discuss here in detail with respect to two of the most commonly known and studied learning differences, dyslexia and ADHD. We welcome and encourage any questions or comments (including constructive criticism), or suggestions concerning learning-related topics or areas of neurological research which you feel should be addressed here in more detail.

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