Individual differences in science competence among students are associated with ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activation

Allaire-Duquette, G., Belanger, M., Grabner, R. H., Koschutnig, K., & Masson, S. (2019). Individual differences in science competence among students are associated with ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activation. Journal of Neuroscience Research, 97(9), 1163-1178. doi:10.1002/jnr.24435

ABSTRACT: Functional neuroimaging studies have revealed that, compared with novices, science experts show increased activation in dorsolateral and ventrolateral prefrontal brain areas associated with inhibitory control mechanisms when providing scientifically valid responses in tasks related to electricity and mechanics. However, no study thus far has explored the relationship between activation of the key brain regions involved in inhibitory control mechanisms, namely the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPC) and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPC), and individual differences in conceptual science competence, while controlling for scientific training. In the present study, 24 secondary school students (11 female participants, 13 male participants) were selected from a larger pool based on their performance on a conceptual science questionnaire and were divided into groups with low and high conceptual science competence. In an fMRI block design, participants had to verify the correctness (true or false) of congruent and incongruent statements. In congruent statements, both spontaneous and scientific conceptions about given natural phenomena lead to a scientifically appropriate judgment. However, in incongruent statements, commonly held spontaneous conceptions about natural phenomena lead to a scientifically in‐ appropriate judgment. The interaction effect reveals that students with higher con‐ ceptual science competence display stronger activation of the left VLPC and DLPC in incongruent trials than in congruent trials. These findings show that activation of the VLPC and DLPC when reasoning in incongruent situations underlies individual differences in conceptual science competence, and suggests stronger recruitment of inhibitory control mechanisms in more competent individuals.

Neuromyths and their origin among teachers in Quebec

Blanchette Sarrasin, J., Riopel, M., & Masson, S. (2019). Neuromyths and their origin among teachers in Quebec. Mind, Brain, and Education, 13(2), 100-109. doi:10.1111/mbe.12193

ABSTRACT: Previous studies have revealed that neu- romyths, which are misconceptions about the brain, show a high prevalence among teachers in different countries. How- ever, little is known about the origin of these ideas; that is to say, the sources that may influence their presence among teachers. This research aims to identify the prevalence of five frequent neuromyths among teachers in Quebec (belief in neuromyths and reported practices) and the reported sources of these beliefs (e.g., reading popular science texts). A total of 972 teachers from Quebec responded to an online questionnaire. Results show a lower prevalence than pre- vious studies (although it remains high), and that the main sources cited by participants are related to cognitive biases and university training. To our knowledge, this study is the first to report data supporting the idea that cognitive biases are related to the prevalence of neuromyths.

Neural correlates associated with novices correcting errors in electricity and mechanics

Nenciovici, L., Brault Foisy, L.-M., Allaire-Duquette, G., Potvin, P., Riopel, M., & Masson, S. (2018). Neural Correlates Associated With Novices Correcting Errors in Electricity and Mechanics. Mind, Brain, and Education, 12(3), 120-139. doi:10.1111/mbe.12183

ABSTRACT: Learning counterintuitive scientific concepts can be difficult for students because they often have misconceptions about natural phenomena that lead them to commit errors. Recent studies showed that students with advanced scientific training recruit brain regions associ- ated with inhibitory control and memory retrieval to avoid committing errors for questions related to counterintuitive scientific concepts. However, the brain mechanisms used by novices in sciences to overcome errors are still unknown. In this study, novices in electricity and mechanics answered a scientific task in an functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner before and after having corrected their errors. Results show that rostrofrontal and parietal brain areas were more activated after correcting errors than before. These findings suggest that error-correction mech- anisms of novices, induced by presenting to learners the correct answers at the very beginning of their learning pro- cess, are associated with memory retrieval but not inhibitory control.

Effects of teaching the concept of neuroplasticity to induce a growth mindset on motivation, achievement, and brain activity: A meta-analysis

Sarrasin, J. B., Nenciovici, L., Foisy, L.-M. B., Allaire-Duquette, G., Riopel, M., & Masson, S. (2018). Effects of teaching the concept of neuroplasticity to induce a growth mindset on motivation, achievement, and brain activity: A meta-analysis. Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 12, 22-31. doi:10.1016/j.tine.2018.07.003

Context: Inducing a growth mindset in students has been shown to impact positively on motivation, academic achievement, and brain activity. However, some studies have yielded different results and authors rarely provide reasons to explain this inconsistency.
Purpose: The primary objective of this article was to better understand the conflicting evidence by synthesizing the studies on the subject.
Methods: We conducted a meta-analysis of 10 peer-reviewed studies teaching neuroplasticity to induce a growth mindset in participants from age 7 to adulthood.
Results: Results show that inducing a growth mindset by teaching neuroplasticity has an overall positive effect on motivation, achievement, and brain activity. The results also reveal that this intervention seems more beneficial for at-risk students, especially regarding mathematics achievement (= 0.78).
Conclusion: These findings thus suggest that inconsistent evidence across empirical studies could be explained by students’ characteristics and subject area.

Is inhibitory control involved in discriminating pseudowords that contain the reversible letters b and d?

Brault Foisy, L.-M., Ahr, E., Masson, S., Houdé, O., & Borst, G. (2017). Is inhibitory control involved in discriminating pseudowords that contain the reversible letters b and d? Journal of experimental child psychology, 162, 259-267. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2017.05.011

ABSTRACT: Children tend to confuse reversible letters such as b and d when they start learning to read. According to some authors, mirror errors are a consequence of the mirror generalization (MG) process that allows one to recognize objects independently of their left– right orientation. Although MG is advantageous for the visual recognition of objects, it is detrimental for the visual recognition of reversible letters. Previous studies comparing novice and expert readers demonstrated that MG must be inhibited to discriminate reversible single letters. In this study, we investigated whether MG must also be inhibited by novice readers to discriminate between two pseudowords containing reversible letters. Readable pseudowords, rather than words, were used to mimic early non-automatic stages of reading when reading is achieved by decoding words through grapheme–phoneme pairing and combination. We designed a negative priming paradigm in which school-aged children (10-year-olds) were asked to judge whether two pseudowords were identical on the prime and whether two animals were identical on the probe. Children required more time to determine that two animals were mirror images of each other when preceded by pseudowords containing the reversible letter b or d than when preceded by different pseudowords containing the control letter f or t (Experiment 1) or by different pseudowords that differed only by the target letter f or k (Experiment 2). These results suggest that MG must be inhibited to discriminate between pseudowords containing reversible letters, generalizing the findings regarding single letters to a context more representative of the early stages of reading.