In our discussion of the nervous basis underlying study we observed

that nerve pathways are affected not only by what enters over the

sensory pathways, but also by what flows out over the motor pathways.

As the nerve currents travel out from the motor centres in the brain to

the muscles, they leave traces which modify future thoughts and

actions. This being so, it is easy to see that what we give out is

fully as important as what we take in; in other words, our

_expressions_ are just as important as our _impressions_. By

expressions we mean the motor consequences of our thoughts, and in

study they usually take the form of speech and writing of a kind to be

specified later.

The far-reaching effects of motor expressions are too infrequently

emphasized, but psychology forces us to give them prime consideration.

We are first apprised of their importance when we study the nervous

system, and find that every incoming sensory message pushes on and on

until it finds a motor pathway over which it may travel and produce

movement. This is inevitable. The very structure and arrangement of the

neurones is such that we are obliged to make some movement in response

to objects affecting our sense organs. The extent of movement may vary

from the wide-spread tremors that occur when we are frightened by a

thunderstorm to the merest flicker of an eye-lash. But whatever be its

extent, movement invariably occurs when we are stimulated by some

object. This has been demonstrated in startling ways in the

psychological laboratory, where even so simple a thing as a piece of

figured wall-paper has been shown to produce measurable bodily

disturbances. Ordinarily we do not notice these because they are so

slight, sometimes being merely twitches of deep-seated muscles or

slight enlargements or contractions of arteries which are very

responsive to nerve currents. But no matter how large or how small, we

may be sure that movements always occur on the excitation of a sense

organ. This led us to assert in an earlier chapter that the function of

the nervous system is to convert incoming sensory currents into

outgoing motor currents.

So ingrained is this tendency toward movement that we do not need even

a sensory cue to start it off; an idea will do as well. In other words,

the nervous current need not start at a sense organ, but may start in

the brain and still produce movement. This fact is embodied in the law

of ideo-motor action (distinguished from sensory-motor action), "every

idea in the mind tends to express itself in movement." This motor

character of ideas is manifested in a most thorough-going way and

renders our muscular system a faithful mirror of our thoughts. We have

in the psychological laboratory delicate apparatus which enables us to

measure many of these slight movements. For example, we fasten a

recording device to the top of a person's head, so that his slightest

movements will be recorded, then we ask him while standing perfectly

still to think of an object at his right side. After several moments

the record shows that he involuntarily leans in the direction of the

object about which he is thinking. We find further illustration of this

law when we examine people as they read, for they involuntarily

accompany the reading with movements of speech, measurable in the

muscles of the throat, the tongue and the lips. These facts, and many

others, constitute good evidence for the statement that ideas seek

expression in movement.

The ethical consequences of this are so momentous that we must remark

upon them in passing. We now see the force of the biblical statement,

"Not that which entereth into the mouth defileth the man; but that

which proceedeth out of the mouth, this defileth the man." Think what

it means to one's character that every thought harbored in the mind is

bound to come out. It may not manifest itself at once in overt action,

but it affects the motor pathways and either weakens or strengthens

connections so that when the opportunity comes, some act will be

furthered or hindered. In view of the proneness to permit base thoughts

to enter the mind, human beings might sometimes fear even to think. A

more optimistic idea, however, is that noble thoughts lead to noble

acts. Therefore, keep in your mind the kind of thoughts that you wish

to see actualized in your character and the appropriate acts will

follow of their own accord.

But it is with the significance of expressions in study that we are at

present concerned, and here we find them of supreme importance. We

ordinarily regard learning as a process of taking things into the mind,

and regard expression as a thing apart from acquisition of knowledge.

We shall find in this discussion, however, that there is no such sharp

demarcation between acquiring knowledge and expressing knowledge, but

that the two are intimately bound together, expressions being properly

a part of wise and economical learning.

When we survey the modes of expression that may be used in study, we

find them to be of several kinds. Speech is one. This is the form of

expression for which the class-recitation is provided. If you wish to

grow as a student, utilize the recitation period and welcome every

chance to recite orally, for things about which you recite in class are

more effectively learned. Talking about a subject under all

circumstances will help you learn. When studying subjects like

political economy, sociology or psychology, seize every opportunity to

talk over the questions involved. Hold frequent conferences with your

instructor; voice your difficulties freely, and the very effort to

state them will help to clarify them. It is a good plan for two

students in the same course to come together and talk over the

problems; the debates thus stimulated and the questions aroused by

mental interaction are very helpful in impressing facts more vividly

upon the mind.

Writing is a form of expression and is one thing that gives value to

note-taking and examinations. Its value is further recognized by the

requirements of themes and term-papers. These are all mediums by which

you may develop yourself, and they merit your earnest cooperation.

Another medium of expression that students may profitably employ is

drawing. This is especially valuable in such subjects as geology,

physiology and botany. Students in botany are compelled to do much

drawing of the plant-forms which they study, and this is a wise

requirement, for it makes them observe more carefully, report more

faithfully and recall with greater ease. You may secure the same

advantages by employing the graphic method in other studies. For

example, when reading in a geology text-book about the stratification

of the earth in a certain region, draw the parts described and label

them according to the description. You will be surprised to see how

clear the description becomes and how easily it is later recalled.

Let us examine the effects of the expressive movements of speech,

writing and the like, and see the mechanism by which they facilitate

the study process. We may describe their effects in two ways:

neurologically and psychologically. As may be expected from our

preliminary study of the nervous system, we see their first effects

upon the motor pathways leading out to the muscles. Each passage of the

nerve current from brain to muscle leaves traces so that the resulting

act is performed with greater ease upon each repetition. This fact has

already been emphasized by the warning, Guard the avenues of


Especially is it important at the first performance of an act,

because this determines the path of later performances. In such studies

as piano-playing, vocalizing and pronunciation of foreign words, see

that your first performance is absolutely right, then as the expressive

movements are repeated, they will be more firmly ingrained because of

the deepening of the motor pathways.

The next effect of acts of expression is to be found in the

modifications made in the sensory areas of the brain. You will recall

that every movement of a muscle produces nervous currents which go back

to the brain and register there in the form of kinaesthetic sensations.

To demonstrate kinaesthetic sensations, close your eyes and move your

index finger up and down. You can feel the muscles contracting and the

tendons moving back and forth, even into the back of the hand. These

sensations ordinarily escape our attention, but they occupy a prominent

place in the control of our actions. For example, when ascending

familiar stairs in the dark, they notify us when we have reached the

top. We are still further impressed with their importance when we are

deprived of them; when we try to walk upon a foot or a leg that has

gone "to sleep"; that is, when the kinaesthetic nerves are temporarily

paralyzed we find it difficult to walk. But besides being used to

control muscular actions, they may be used in study, for they may be

made the source of impressions, and impressions, as we learned in the

chapter on memory, are a prime requisite for learning. Each expression

becomes, then, through its kinaesthetic results, the source of new

impressions, when, for example, you pronounce the German word,

_anwenden_, with the English word "to employ," in addition to the

impressions made through the ear, you make impressions through the

muscles of speech (kinaesthetic impressions), and these kinaesthetic

impressions enter into the body of your knowledge and later may serve

as the means by which the word may be revived. When you write the word,

you make kinaesthetic impressions which may later serve as forms of

revival. So the movements of expression produce sensory material that

may serve as tentacles by means of which you can later reach back into

your memory and recall facts.

We shall now consider another service of expressions which, though

little regarded, nevertheless is of much moment. When we make

expressive movements, much nervous energy is generated; much more than

during passive impression. Energy is sent back to the brain over the

kinaesthetic nerve cells, and the greater the extent of the movement,

the greater is the amount of new energy sent to the brain. It pours

into the brain and diffuses itself especially throughout the

association areas. Here it excites regions which could not be excited

by a more limited amount of energy. This means, in psychical terms,

that new ideas are being aroused. The obvious inference from this fact

is that you may, by starting movements of expression, actually summon

to your assistance added powers of mind. For example, when you are

called upon to recite in class, your mind seems to be a complete

blank--in a state of "deadlock." You may break this "deadlock" and

start brain-action by some kind of movement. It may be only to clear

your throat, to ejaculate "well," or to squirm about in the seat, but

whatever form the movement takes, it will usually be effective in

creating the desired nervous energy, and after the inertia is once

overcome the mental stream will flow freely. The unconscious

application of this device is seen when a man is called on suddenly to

make a speech for which he has not prepared. He usually starts out by

telling a story, thus liberating nervous energy to pour back into the

brain and start thinking processes. With increasing vehemence of

expression, the ideas come more and more freely, and the result is a

speech which surpasses the expectations of the speaker himself. The

gesticulations of many speakers have this same function, being

frequently of great service in arousing more nervous energy, which goes

back to the brain and arouses more ideas.

The device of stimulating ideas by expressive movements may be utilized

in theme- or letter-writing. It is generally recognized that the

difficult thing in such writing is to get a start, and the too common

practice is to sit listlessly gazing into space waiting for

"inspiration." This is usually a futile procedure. The better way is to

begin to write anything about the topic in hand. What you write may

have little merit, either of substance or form. Nevertheless, if you

persist in keeping up the activity of writing, making more and more

movements, you will find that the ideas will begin to come in greater

profusion until they come so fast you can hardly write them down.

Having tried to picture the neural effect of expression, we may now

translate them into psychological terms, asking what service the

expressions render to the conscious side of our study. First of all, we

note that the expressions help to make the acts and ideas in study

habitual. We find ourselves, with each expression, better able to

perform such acts as the pronunciation of foreign words. Second, they

furnish new impressions through the kinaesthetic sense, thus being a

source of sense-impression. Third, they give rise to a greater number

of ideas and link them up with the idea dominant at the moment. There

is a further psychological effect of expression in the clarification of

ideas. It is a well-attested fact that when we attempt to explain a

thing to someone else, it becomes clearer in our own minds. You can

demonstrate this for yourself by attempting to explain to someone an

intricate conception such as the nebular hypothesis. The effort

involved in making the explanation makes the fact more vivid to you.

The habit of thus utilizing your knowledge in conversation is an

excellent one to acquire. Indeed, expression is the only objective test

of knowledge and we cannot say that we really know until we can express

our knowledge. Expression is thus the great clarification agency and

the test of knowledge. Before leaving this discussion, it might be well

to remark upon one phase of expression that is sometimes a source of

difficulty. This is the embarrassment incident to some forms of

expression, notably oral. Many people are deterred from utilizing this

form of expression because of shyness and embarrassment in the presence

of others. If you have this difficulty in such excess that it hinders

you from free expression, resolve at once to overcome it. Begin at the

very outset of your academic career to form habits of disregarding your

impulses to act in frightened manner. Take a course in public speaking.

The practice thus secured will be a great aid in developing habits of

fearless and free oral expression.

This discussion has shown that expression is a powerful aid in

learning, and is a most important feature of mental life. Cultivate

your powers of expression, for your college education should consist

not only in the development of habits of impression, but also in the

development of habits of expression. Grasp eagerly every opportunity

for the development of skill in clear and forceful expression. Devote

assiduous attention to themes and all written work, and make serious

efforts to speak well. Remember you are forming habits that will

persist throughout your life. Emphasize, therefore, at every step,

methods of expression, for it is this phase of learning in which you

will find greatest growth.


Exercise I. Give an example from your own experience, showing how

expression (a) stimulates ideas, (b) clarifies ideas.

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