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Treasure Box Funding: Julie Poirier explores the Unlearning of Children with a Candy Mountain (A16)

6. February 2019

Julie Poirier researches at the Faculty of Rehabilitation Sciences of the Technical University Dortmund how children unlearn their knowledge and lets them “blast” chocolate out of a candy mine. Starting in March, the experiment will be used in kindergartens and day-care centres. The results can provide new insights for the design of school lessons or certain therapies, for example confrontation therapy. People are confronted with their fears, which they should “unlearn”.

“What has already been learned is not deleted or overwritten in the brain during extinction learning, but rather inhibited depending on the context,” says Julie. In the “Candy Mountain” experiment, there are initially two such contexts: If the yellow light illuminates, there is sweetness. If the red light illuminates, there is nothing. In the third round, the child is put back into the first context and is thus to be made to show the behaviour that was lost in the red phase again. Julie and her team now measure how long the child presses the trigger and hopes that the mine will release chocolate candies again. From this duration, conclusions can now be drawn about the influence of the context on learning and unlearning in children of this age group.

The SFB 1280 has set up a budget for the realisation of the research ideas of its young scientists. With the “treasure box”, we finance convincing and independent study concepts of young scientists.