– EN Fitness & Wellbeing – Taking short breaks while learning a new skill could help to strengthen memory, new research has found.
The study, which was conducted by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, examined brain waves recorded from healthy volunteers during memory experiments conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center.
Participants, who were all right-handed, were shown a series of numbers on a computer screen and asked to type the numbers as many times as possible with their left hands for 10 seconds, take a 10 second break, and then repeat the process 35 more times.
The speed at which the volunteers correctly typed the numbers improved dramatically during the first few trials before levelling off, and study leader Dr. Marlene Bonstrup suggested that the observation gave a surprising insight into how learning happens.
“I noticed that participants’ brain waves seemed to change much more during the rest periods than during the typing sessions,” she said. “This gave me the idea to look much more closely for when learning was actually happening. Was it during practice or rest?”
When Dr. Bonstrup reanalysed the data, she found the volunteers’ performance improved primarily during the short rests, and that during this time their brains were consolidating memories, aiding overall improvement.
While the scientists plan to follow up the study with further research, co-author Dr. Leonardo G. Cohen considered that the findings could help people optimise learning and train memory in everyday life.
“Our results suggest that it may be important to optimise the timing and configuration of rest intervals when implementing rehabilitative treatments in stroke patients or when learning to play the piano in normal volunteers,” he reflected. “Whether these results apply to other forms of learning and memory formation remains an open question.”