Unconscious learning

Study participants learned to tap Morse code into Google Glass after four hours. Credit: Georgia Tech/Caitlyn Seim

A lot of what we “know” has been learnt unconsciously. Have someone ever taught you that you can pull a rope but you cannot push it? Or that it is better not to try to go through a closed door but rather open it first? I bet no-one ever did, yet it comes naturally to you, because you have learnt all of these, although unconsciously through experience.

When I was young, many many years ago, there was a theory that you can help learning by playing a recording as you slept through the night. I remember my father recording a poem I was supposed to memorize as I was sleeping, riding on that theory.  I can’t say that it didn’t worked at all, but I still remember having to learn the poem the hard way. It never happened that in the morning I was remembering a poem that has been playing through the night as I slept. Still, I remember wishing that learning could be achieved that way, unconsciously.

That theory faded away (a hint that it probably it didn’t work).

Now researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology claim, through replicable experiments, that unconscious learning can be fostered through haptic stimulation.

They have managed to teach the Morse code to a group of people reinforcing the learning by haptic stimulation (with a controlling group not subject to haptic stimulation).

The experiment involved playing games that involved the Morse code, a letter being displayed along its Morse code representation. The players played various types of games for four hours. A group was subject to a haptic stimulation through Google Glass. A low frequency sound (15 Hz) was sent through the Glass and resulting in a tactile stimulation. A longer sound resulted in a longer “tap” that could be associated to the “line” in the Morse code, a shorter one resulted in a shorter tap, associated to a “dot”.

After the four hours both groups were tested in their ability to write sentences using the Morse code and in recognizing letters coded in Morse.

It turned out that the group that underwent the haptic stimulation was close to perfect in recognizing and writing, no so the other group.  Acquiring a good skill in reading/writing Morse is not trivial and being able to do that almost unconsciously in just four hours is really amazing.

Researchers are convinced of the effectiveness of this Passive Haptic Learning, PHT, and plan to experiment with a variety of other –more common- devices, like Bluetooth headsets, cellphones, smart watches, any devices that can “vibrate” and thus can produce tactile sensations.

We are not, yet, to the point of learning unconsciously a poem, still it may be a step in faster painless learning.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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