The brain structures related to cognition and learning


Human learning is now understood as a neurobiological phenomenon resulting from the complex interaction of brain cells and growth factors. Neuroimaging studies consistently indicate that sensory information from sensory organs is transmitted along neural pathways via synapses. This information is temporarily stored in the short-memory for processing before it is transmitted to the long-term memory where it is compared with existing information and permanently stored. With such complexities, inefficiencies in the transmission process are bound to occur. Recent research suggests that transmission efficiency and accuracy of memories improve as the frequency of interaction among neurons increases (Ackerman, 1992). The consequence is that faulty memories are likely to occur when two neurons interact infrequently. Research further suggests that a pattern of structural changes in the brain corresponds to the type of learning experience developed by an individual at different stages in life. These changes in brain structure alter the organization of the specialized functional areas of the brain. The overall purpose of this paper is to explore the major brain structures that influence learning and cognition.

Learning experiences

            Learning experiences are complex, subtle and significant because they are context-dependent and involve many different learning processes. Moreover, learning experiences are influenced by the learner’s preferences and personal characteristics. Learning to play the guitar is a learning experience that involves the development and conditioning of habits. Habits can be described as thought patterns and behaviors that are developed over time and exhibited in a specific context. While habits are learned gradually and unconsciously, they can be mindfully changed or reinforced.

An essential feature of habits that contributes to its uniqueness as a form of learning is that they are self-reinforcing. Extant research indicates that bad habits are more difficult to unlearn because they are concerned with short-term goals and are enacted automatically as compared to positive habits (Dam, 2018). A relatively higher level of effort is needed to develop the required good habits and to effectively use those habits in improving the quality of life. The additional effort required clearly hiders the extensive learning of good habits. On the other hand, it is reported that those individuals who mindfully learn good habits are able to demonstrate desirable results and progress.

The principle that is firmly evidenced in the gradual formation of habits is conditioning. Conditioning is characterized by Ford (2011) as a form of learning that occurs through automatic adjustment of one’s behavior and decisions when exposed to familiar contextual triggers. Research further suggests that such decisions and behaviors are strengthened by rewards that closely follow their establishment. While the rewards are usually external, they can be generated by the individual. This is true in the particular case of learning to play the guitar where the leaner realizes improvements in skill as a result of his habit of practicing regularly. The indications, then, are that the learning experience is most effective when the learner is able to demonstrate steady progress and results. Habit-driven experiences are not consciously initiated: the learning experience is realized over time and after beginning the activity.

As a habit-driven activity, learning to play the guitar requires a considerable level of effort and will power to develop the necessary behaviors and skills (Mayfield Brain & Spine, 2018). For instance, the learner should deliberately learn to hold the instrument with the back straight and head pointing upward. Such behaviors should become automatic over time to free up mental resources for learning new techniques and pieces that are cognitively more demanding than the initial ones. Conditioned learning typically promotes survival and; thus, can result in undesirable consequences. Classical conditioning, for instance, encompasses adaptive patterns of brain functions and structures.

The second learning experience is learning to bake a cake, which involves learning by observation. Observational learning is a non-trial form of learning, which involves modeling the behavior, attitudes and skills of others (Carcea & Froemke, 2019). The learning process is relatively faster and often occurs without rewards or explicit feedback. Learning by observation, however, requires a relatively higher cognitive capacity for recognizing, interpreting and modelling observed activities. This is true especially when the learner is required to observe and replicate invisible things such as emotional expressions.

The effectiveness of learning by observations is largely influenced by learners’ perception of their goal and role regarding the model being observed. In this connection, Ford (2011) contends that cues from authority figures such as parents and teachers contribute to the learning of injunctive norms whereas descriptive norms are learned through peer observation. Specifically, relevant, attractive and prestigious models gain relatively more attention from learners. Learning to bake a cake involves observing and listening to other people as they bake. Research suggests four conditions that need to be fulfilled in observational learning: attention, retention, reproduction and motivation. As such, the learner must pay attention to the critical components of the activity including the ingredients and equipment involved. Additionally, the learner should be able to remember the

Learning a new language is primarily based on implicit pattern learning, which occurs without any reward or external feedback. This form of learning is also known as statistical learning because it involves unconscious recognition and retention of regular patterns in an irregular context. It is independent of IQ and, therefore, it occurs in virtually all age groups. This is true considering that language learning occurs spontaneously and unconsciously as people listen to regularly spoken words. This form of learning, however, occurs gradually and requires extended experience within a particular environment.  

Specific brain structures that contribute to the learning experiences

The brain is the foundation of cognition and learning in human beings. To begin with, scientists discovered that various sections of the brain help in the learning process. Learning form an important role of the brain and cognitive development by a constant interaction between an individual and their surroundings. Thus, it is worth noting that the brain is important in learning and understanding through the processing of information acquired in as well as outside the body. The brain is separated into three different areas; forebrain, midbrain and hindbrain. The forebrain consists of hypothalamus, thalamus and cerebrum. Hindbrain consist of the cerebellum, and medulla. Midbrain consists of tectum and tegmentum.

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The midbrain is a part that is linked to emotions and long memory inception in the neocortex. The part also connects with the thalamus to make sure that different concepts from senses are transferred. Besides, the limbic system is located on top of the brain stem just under the cortex. It consists of various brain structures connected. The system manages an individual’s drive, hormone and emotions. The system helps in memory formation, which explains the connection between emotion and long memory.


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The forebrain is the anterior section of a developing brain, which consists of the most complex networks in the central nervous system. It is the central thinking part of the brain and regulates voluntary action (Bassett et al, 2011). The forebrain regulates sensory information obtained from different sense organs like the ears, eyes, nose, tongue, as well as the skin. The hypothalamus is part of the forebrain that regulates the activities and drive. It is a place where the different neurons, which influence breathing as well as heartbeat, are located. It is the reason why strong emotion usually results in physical alterations like adrenaline responses of a fight. Besides, the hippocampus plays a significant purpose in processing information for long memory.

The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain. The cerebrum is associated with higher brain operations, like thinking and action. The neocortex is a structure that is complicated and linked with higher-degree operations of the brain (Bassett et al, 2011). It consists of various sections; cerebral hemisphere wrinkled but has a surface area of about 1.5 square meters. The hemispheres consist of different lobes with specific important roles. The first, which is the frontal lobes, occupy the forefront. It is used to make decisions, speech, emotions, movement and planning. The second, which is parietal lobes, is linked with the sense of touch and perception of space. In addition, there exist occipital lobes used for visual operations while temporal lobes linked with emotions and sound processing.


The hindbrain is the part that controls the visceral function. This section of the brain plays a significant role in regulating the heart rate, breathing, sleep and waking, as well as blood pressure among other operations. It consists of different parts; medulla oblongata, pons and cerebellum (Vértes et al, 2012). The cerebellum is a part that maintains balance, exchange of information, fine modification to the motor action, and controlling eye movement among other operations in a human body. Coordination and body equilibrium, posture when walking, cycling, standing, swimming, and running is managed through the cerebellum. Therefore, this part of the brain plays a vital role in learning various operations that require balance because it controls body movement.

Different learning experiences involve various parts of the brain. First, learning another language is a good example of a learning experience, which require various sections of the brain. The part should act simultaneously to allow learning (Vértes et al, 2012). In learning a different language, the brain plays an important role through other elements. The main part of the brain that helps in learning a language is auditory cortex as well as angular gyrus. Second, another learning experience is learning to cycle a bicycle. The activity is a reflex, which requires the help of cerebellum brain. The cerebellum is a part of the brain that helps in coordination and balance. Thus, it helps an individual to maintain an upright posture when riding a bike. In addition, procedural memory plays a key role in understanding concepts, while pons helps to manage feet peddling during cycling.

Structural brain changes during the learning process

During the development of human beings, the brain goes through various changes that result from learning and experience. The modification happens in various parts of the brain that is influenced through a specific operation, which is learned. For example, when a motor skill is acquired, a motor part of the brain like the cortex, cerebellum and other sections of the hindbrain that change (Bassett et al, 2011). Learning occurs through a network of a different neuron that transfers sensory information to various parts of the brain to enable operations. In addition, learning and memory formation happens by strengthening and weakening brain cells. Thus, the brain goes through neuroplasticity during early development to adulthood, and when a brain injury occurs.

The development of the brain uses specific experiences to make sure that information acquired from the surrounding is applied for re-arrangement. For example, the inception of human language is considered a natural process whose plan is managed through limiting factors. To understand the elements of speech, a parallel system occurs in language development. In regards to this, one is required to master the smallest unit of speech known as phenome that allows humans to distinguish specific sounds like “t” and “d” through a perception of voice.

Usually, a child will acquire motor skills, reasoning, cognition and memory during the formative years. Learning occurs in a specialized network of neurons so that the message created is tracked and can be used. The above actions are linked with the growth and development of the right hemisphere and parts of the brain connected to emotional aspects. As a child develops, brain operation becomes the central role in the posterior part in an intersection of visuals, and tactile operations meet. It is worth noting that as a child grows, frontal lobes start to develop, which goes on to adulthood.


The various parts of the brain are involved in cognitive development, which is important for a learning experience. For example, the process of cognitive development uses a neural connection that links different parts of the brain during learning. In regards to this, different parts of the brain play a specific role in learning and memory. It is important to note that a human mind is the most complex and crucial organ in the body. It helps manage all the sensations as fast as the performance of the physical structure. The brain works together with the spinal cord and other peripheral areas consisting of nerves to manage operations of the body like memory, balance, and speaking, among others.


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Carcea, I., & Froemke, R. C. (2019). Biological mechanisms for observational learning. Current opinion in neurobiology, 54, 178-185.

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Vértes, P. E., Alexander-Bloch, A. F., Gogtay, N., Giedd, J. N., Rapoport, J. L., & Bullmore, E. T. (2012). Simple models of human brain functional networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(15), 5868-5873.

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