Learning A New Skill? Taking Short Breaks Can Go A Long Way

Brain News: Researchers found that it is important to take short breaks when learning a new skill, like playing piano. Resting brain replays faster versions of what we just practised, strengthens memories and helps us perform better during subsequent practice sessions.

Research team at NIH Clinical Center investigated what are the best practices when learning a new skill such as playing piano or typing code. They recruited 33 healthy, right-handed volunteers and using a technique known as magnetoencephalography, recorded the participants’ brain activity as they learned to type a five-digit test code (41234) with their left hands.

Volunteers were seated in a chair and wore a long, cone-shaped scanner cap during the experiment. Each subject was asked to type 41234 as many times as possible for 10 seconds and then take a 10-second break, and repeated this cycle of practise and rest sessions for 35 times.

Participants showed improvement in typing the code correctly during the first few trials until 11th cycle. As per previous experiment done at NIH, most of the improvement happened during short breaks, and not when the subjects were typing. Researchers observed that improvements seen during these trials were greater than those made after a night’s sleep, which correlated with a decrease in the size of brain waves, called beta rhythms.

With the help of a new software, the researchers monitored the brain wave activity associated with typing each number in the test code. They discovered that during short breaks brains replayed the typing activity 20 times faster around 25 times per rest period upto first eleven cycles and then reduced in number: by two or three times during the final cycles. Volunteers whose brains replayed the typing activity the most showed the greatest improvements in performance following each cycle.

“This suggests that during wakeful rest the brain binds together the memories required to learn a new skill,”said Ethan R. Buch, Ph.D., leader of the study.

To Know More, You May Refer To:

Buch, E., Claudino, L., Quentin, R., Bönstrup, M., & Cohen, L. (2021). Consolidation of human skill linked to waking hippocampo-neocortical replay. https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.04.07.438819

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