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Brain Scientist Pushes Social Learning

Patricia K. Huhl, University of Washington, talks with ScienceLives about her research on how social interactions can help acquire learning skills for math and science. (Image credit: National Science Foundation)

This ScienceLives article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

At birth, children’s brains are prepared to learn from social agents – other members in a group or society. New research findings also suggest this "social brain" helps a person’s learning over his or her lifetime. But beyond learning social skills, Patricia Kuhl’s research convinces her that social interaction can be used to acquire specific types of learning skills, such as for math and science,. Studies of how children acquire language through live social communications are leading researchers to form new theories suggesting social interaction acts as a "gate" that triggers different types of learning. Kuhl, director of the National Science Foundation’s LIFE Science of Learning Center at the University of Washington and the co-director of the University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, is at the forefront of investigating these propositions. Kuhl was one of six scientists invited to the White House in 1997 to make a presentation on "Early Learning and the Brain" and again in 2001, she was invited to make a presentation at a White House Summit on "Early Cognitive Development: Ready to Read, Ready to Learn." She recently returned from Rome where she presented her research at the Vatican, and more recently, she provied a lecture at NSF on how being face to face with people in social settings changes the underlying foundations of learning. Below, in video format, she answers ScienceLives 10 questions.

Name: Patricia K. Kuhl Institution: University of Washington Field of Study: Early Language and Brain Development

Editor's Note: This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the federal agency charged with funding basic research and education across all fields of science and engineering. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. See the ScienceLives archive.