Resting Often Is Critical For Effective Learning, Study Suggests

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A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health suggests that taking short breaks between learning is just as important as practice.

The findings of the study showed that taking short rests after practicing new skills can strengthen the skills further. According to Dr. Leonardo G. Cohen, senior author and senior investigator, at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Everyone thinks you need to ‘practice, practice, practice’ when learning something new. Instead, we found that resting, early and often, may be just as critical to learning as practice. Our ultimate hope is that the results of our experiments will help patients recover from the paralyzing effects caused by strokes and other neurological injuries by informing the strategies they use to ‘relearn’ lost skills.”

The researchers observed brain waves of healthy, right-handed volunteers involved in learning and memory experiments using a scanning technique called ‘magnetoencephalography’. The volunteers were asked to sit in chairs facing a monitor while wearing brain scanning headgear. They were then asked to type a number shown on the screen as many times as they could using their left hands for a duration of 10 seconds. This was followed by a 10 second break, and the process was repeated 35 times. The researchers observed improvement in the subjects’ typing speed during the first 11 trials, and then reduced gradually from there.

After reassessing the data, the team reached a few important conclusions. The volunteers performed well during the short breaks, but not while typing. The improvements made during the breaks contributed to the subjects’ overall performance on that day. Furthermore, analyzing the brain waves showed that the brain was solidifying memories during the breaks. “Our results suggest that it may be important to optimize the timing and configuration of rest intervals when implementing rehabilitative treatments in stroke patients or when learning to play the piano in normal volunteers,” Dr. Cohen concluded. “Whether these results apply to other forms of learning and memory formation remains an open question.”

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Cynthia Carrier is a graduate of Texas A&M, where she played volleyball and annoyed a lot of professors. Now as Plains Gazette's entertainment and Lifestyle Editor, she enjoys writing about delicious BBQ, outrageous style trends and all things Texas.