Short breaks are good for the brain when studying. Then work repeatedly on the areas that were already active during the practice. But this time it’s 20 times faster.
Those who learn something new, such as a musical instrument, sometimes practice for hours, according to the motto “Practice makes perfect.” But this does not appear to be the best path to success. Apparently, the actual learning process in the brain occurs when we take short breaks in between. This is what researchers from the US National Institutes of Health reported in the specialized journal “Cell Reports”.
They found that the same patterns of activity occur in the brain during rest as during exercise – but at three times the rate and 20 times as fast.
Breaks help the brain
The neuroscientists had 30 test subjects type repeatedly in the number sequence “41324” on a computer keyboard. In total 36 exercises of ten seconds each, they should learn to type the key combination as fast as they can. After each exercise there was an equally long break. Meanwhile, the research team recorded the test subjects’ electrical brain activity using an MEG.
Within the first eleven units, the learning curve of the test subjects rose sharply: if they initially needed up to two seconds to enter the key combination correctly, they doubled their pace after eleven training units. Until the last session, they could only marginally increase their pace.
It was notable that the test subjects did not improve in times of exercise. Instead, after a break in the subsequent training session, they were able to write faster than before. The learning curve was also reflected in brain activity: after the first 11 exercises and one break, the number of neuronal repetitions decreased.
Patterns are repeated in the brain at every pause
The active neural network extended to different areas of the brain such as the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex, which are linked to memories and memory. The team used a decoding program to detect neural repeats in the brain. They first trained this with the help of data obtained during the exercise units, using brain activity to distinguish when a key was pressed. In the next step, the decoder analyzed the brain activity of the test subjects during their breaks.
The program searched the data for a pattern of activity it had previously learned and found that this pattern repeated in the brain during each pause. In the future, the researchers want to test whether there is a causal relationship between neural repetitions and successful upstream learning.