Past Event

Antoni Rodriguez-Fornells - The Role of Intrinsic Reward and Metacognition in Language Learning

January 29, 2019
4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
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Jerome L. Greene Science Center (9th Floor Lecture Hall), Columbia University, 3227 Broadway, New York

Event Description:

During the last decade we have accrued important knowledge regarding the cognitive and neural mechanisms involved in the hard process of learning a second language, being these studies essential to understand how the brain of bilinguals is sculpted. However, it is still unknown which are the neural process underlying the human interest and drive to learn a language and what maintains in time this effortful activity. Recent theoretical models have proposed that during human evolution, emerging language-learning mechanisms might have been glued to phylogenetically older subcortical reward systems, reinforcing human motivation to learn a new language. Supporting this hypothesis, we recently showed that adult learners exhibited robust functional MRI activation in core reward-pleasure centers (ventral striatum) when successfully learning the meaning of new words. These results provided the first neural evidences of the important role of reward and motivation during language learning and supporting the idea that the strong coupling between neocortical language regions and the subcortical reward system provided a crucial advantage in humans for successfully acquire linguistic skills. Following this research, we observed that successful active language learning (without the presence of external feedback) triggered also the activation of motivation-reward memory circuits [midbrain dopaminergic circuits and the hippocampus]. The engagement of intrinsic reward-motivational circuits might depend on the proper evaluation of learning success (metacognitive processes).

We believe this intrinsically motivated-learning mechanism might be crucial for boosting the formation of long-term memories, especially in our everyday lives, as we continually acquire new knowledge in the absence of any obvious immediate reward. A key question for the future is whether tapping into intrinsically rewarding forms of learning might be a more effective educational strategy than relying on external feedback and incentives. A second critical issue is to which extent the implication of this reward-learning intrinsic mechanisms could predict the success of the process of learning a new language (considering the contextual and sociolinguistic factors surrounding the learning experience). This could be crucial for improving the design of educational programs – for example, in teaching foreign languages – and for improving the recovery of verbal skills lost after stroke.

Event Speaker:

Antoni Rodriguez-Fornells, PhD, ICREA (Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies), University of Barcelona, Dept. of Cognition, Development and Education Psychology, IDIBELL (Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute)

Event Information: 

This event is hosted by the Zuckerman Institute. Please visit the event webpage for more information.