How to learn a new skill: A short break during practice can be of great help


When practicing new skills (such as learning to play a new song or instrument), taking a 10-second break can help the brain consolidate new information.

According to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, during these rest periods, the brain replays the compressed memory of what has just been practiced. The more memories replayed during the break, the better people will perform.

“Our results support the view that awakeness is as important as practice in learning new skills,” Say Dr. Leonardo G. Cohen, senior researcher at the NIH National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke. “This seems to be a period when our brains compress and consolidate the memories we have just practiced.

“Understanding this effect of neural replay not only helps shape the way we learn new skills, but it also helps us to help patients recover skills that have been lost after nerve damage such as stroke.”

The study required 33 right-handed volunteers to type in a five-digit test code with their left hands. Before taking a 10-second break, each participant typed in the code “41234” on the screen as much as possible within the 10-second time frame. They repeated this cycle 36 times.

During practice and rest, their brain waves are scanned A neuroimaging technique called magnetoencephalography.

Previous research has also shown that the improvement of new skills comes from short breaks between exercises, not from the exercises themselves. In addition, when learning new skills, these short breaks are more important to the brain than getting a good night’s sleep.

In this latest study, Cohen and his colleagues wanted to use a computer program to study the specific brain activity associated with entering each number in the test code.

They found that during the rest period, the version of the brain replay exercise was nearly 20 times faster- 50 milliseconds and one full second, or 1,000 milliseconds of actual behavior.

However, the first few exercises seem to be the most critical. In the first 11 practice trials, the frequency of compressed memory replay was two to three times higher than in subsequent trials or after the trial.

Overall, the volunteers whose brain replayed the most memories during the rest period showed the greatest improvement in skills.

“In the early stages of the learning curve, we saw that the time of awake rest replays was compressed, the frequency was high, and it was a good predictor of the individual variability of learning new skills,” said Dr. Ethan Buch, a scientist who helped develop the computer. system. “This shows that during waking periods, the brain combines the memories needed to learn new skills.”

Most of this activity occurs in the part of the brain responsible for controlling movement, but the researchers were surprised to find that it also occurs in other areas of the brain, including Hippocampus with Entorhinal cortex. These areas are considered to not play a key role in program memory.

“This is the first demonstration of a sober replay of newly learned skills in human practice,” Cohen Say.

He added that this is also the first to show that this neural replay can predict the rapid consolidation of skills responsible for early learning.

Take frequent breaks during practice —— Known as the “spacing effect” —— It has also been shown to improve learning that depends on other types of tasks Procedural motor memory, This is basically the long-term memory responsible for remembering how to perform certain activities, such as riding a bicycle or tying shoelaces.

“Finally, understanding the characteristics of awake replay that are important for skill learning can optimize treatment plans or determine better brain stimulation strategies aimed at enhancing rehabilitation outcomes after strokes and other brain injuries,” Cohen said.

The research was published in Cell Report.



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