Brain Plasticity and Learning Discoveries

Aug 17, 2015

About this Article, “A Groundwork for Allostatic Neuro-Education”

This article by Lee Gerdes, Charles Tegeler, and Sung Lee (Frontiers in Psychology, 17 August 2015), is a contribution to a special research topic on the theme of Neuro-Education and Neuro-Rehabilitation. The research topic was created because “In the last decade, important discoveries have been made in cognitive neuroscience regarding brain plasticity and learning… Time has come to consider the societal impact of these findings.”

Background: The paper begins by reviewing different models of education including “organic” and child- centric practices that focus on learners in terms of their natural unfolding, “cognitive acquisition” practices that focus on standardized knowledge and testing, and “constructivist” practices that aim to develop learners to engage creatively with their social and natural context. From the point of view of neuroscience, the authors introduce the advanced brain-centric model of physiological regulation known as allostasis, or “stability through change.” Allostasis recognizes, in alignment with evolutionary theory, that successful life requires capacity for adaptability and anticipation for changing circumstances. Orchestration of changes in different systems for any given situation requires a dedicated organ for central command, and this role is served by the brain.

Main ideas of the new brain-centric educational vision: The authors propose that a constructivist approach to education that contains strong respect for the learner’s development, is well matched with the allostasis model of physiology that recognizes the key role of the brain as the organ of central command. The match produces a groundwork for allostatic neuro-education (GANE). The GANE is comprised by a perspective, an objective, and a strategy. The perspectiveis to view the learner in terms of their long-term developmental trajectory. This perspective recognizes that “toxic stress” can have long-term negative effects on the developing brain, and it asks educators to pay special attention to interventions that might mitigate effects of stress on learners in development. The objective of the GANE is to support emergence of competent, expansive, and integrated forms of executive function.

This view of the brain’s executive domain is aligned with research in neuroscience which has shown that healthy reasoning is not completely “cold” and impersonal. Integration of the feeling, emotional, or “gut” senses is necessary for even abstract forms of knowledge, and learners can make greatest use of their capacities when they have free and intelligent access to their feelings and imagination. The strategy of the GANE is for educators to be attuned to rhythms, especially those for arousal. Facilitation of calm reflection and excitement for learning should be central to any educational practice.

Case studies: The authors illustrate the GANE by presenting case narratives of two learners who used an allostatic neuro-technology (Brainwave Optimization®) that is designed to support self-optimization of brain electrical rhythms, as a means to support their learning and holistic development. One learner was an adolescent male with special needs who showed greater focus and class participation after completing his sessions, and transitioned from homeschooling to a school environment. The other learner was a grade school girl who demonstrated greater reading comprehension, and transitioned from a Special Education Program to a regular classroom in the period after completing her sessions.

Authors’ conclusion: The GANE and related educational strategies and interventions have critical value for learners now more than ever, to prepare them for the accelerating pace of complex social, economic, technological, and natural changes being expressed in the twenty-first century.

Read the complete article here.

*More information about the HIRREM Research Program at Wake Forest School of Medicine, PI Professor Charles Tegeler, M.D., is available at  The Program has received nearly $3.5 million in independent funding since 2011, from the Susanne Marcus Collins Foundation, Inc., the United States Office of the Secretary of Defense through a contract with US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), the United States Army Research Office, and others.

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