Window to the learning mind

The feedback from her audience brought a big smile on Brigitte Roeder’s face. As this Leibniz award winner finished her session at L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, groups of youngsters surrounded her to share their insights from the talk. Brigitte Roeder’s talk on ‘Age Dependent Learning Plasticity in Humans’ was organised in association with Goethe Zentrum. Later during a break,


Brigitte shares her excitement: “Youngsters are fascinated and their interest is tremendous. There were some students of Europe and India among the audience. I like the sharp interest and questions particularly by the Indian students. I do not always get questions effective to the point in other countries. It reflects the way people think about the issue,” she points out.

This being Brigitte’s fifth visit to city, she says, “I am quite familiar with Hyderabad,” with a smile. As the conversation veers towards the session, she states, “The session was about the sensitive phases in human brain development. It means that we can learn certain knowledge/skills in early life during which we have to have adequate experience in order to unfold our perception and cognitive function,” she points out.
What is a sensitive phase ? “Sensitive phases are critical periods in life when the brain is particularly sensitive to experience which means during this time brain can learn better than later in life. These people can still learn later but learning is less efficient and less complete.”

Brigitte, who is a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Academy of Sciences in Hamburg, shares the questions frequently asked by journalists and politicians. “They ask about the research’s contribution,” she informs and continues, “We need this research in order to improve neuro rehabilitation. We have a lot of development disorders including sensory disorder. We need to know how the plasticity of brain i.e. learning capacity of the brain, changes in order to target the interventions at the right moment in life. For neuro rehabilitation, this is very clear and important. The research will help in the better design of education system.”

Brigitte observes that there is a growing awareness among parents about their children having a sensitive brain. “Very often one knows that one can treat blindness, but one cannot treat all blindness. Intervention should be as early as possible to treat it.”

Brigitte was always interested in science and had a curious mind. “The most fascinating thing was to wonder, question and think why we behave in a particular manner. Why are we so different when it comes to opinions about art, clothes music?”

Her research interests include multisensory processes and age-dependent neuroplasticity. “The heart is partially controlled by the brain. When you are nervous, you get palpitations. These peripheral sensations are partially due to the brain processes. To understand the brain is to understand the mind,” she explains.

Brigitte believes one has not yet understood the functions of brain. “There is a lot of neuro science work going on. Many countries recognise this and the research is being done all over the world. One can understand only some isolated functions of the brain but not how it works together; we hardly understand development.”

Finally, Brigitte shares her dream. “My plans and interest would be to extend our research here. L V Prasad Eye Institute is exceptional and has outstanding quality of research. To be linked to this institute would be my dream.”

Keywords: Brigitte Roeder; Age Dependent Learning Plasticity in Humans