Taking a break makes practice perfect

August 20, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- Trying to learn a piano piece or master a new dance step? Make sure you take good breaks while training because you'll learn more effectively than if you push yourself and practice non-stop, a new study suggests.

The study, found that adopting a “practice makes perfect” approach has limits: train too much and the law of diminishing returns cuts in to impede your progress. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, was conducted by UNSW psychology researchers Soren Ashley and Joel Pearson.

a new skill involves rewiring of the brain, a phenomenon called neural plasticity, the paper notes. For the new skill to persist, those brain changes must be stabilised or consolidated by being transferred from short-term memory and locked into long-term memory.

“If the information and/or neural changes are not adequately consolidated, then learning will be temporary or not occur at all,” the researchers say.

Other research has found that lack of sleep, for example, can interfere with the consolidation process, as can trying to train for a second skill before the first one has properly sunk in.

“Many studies have shown that you don’t learn if you don’t sleep after a day of ,” says Dr Pearson. “Likewise, overtraining can reduce learning if you don’t allow time for consolidation.”

The researchers were specifically interested in the role played in learning by “waking consolidation” – that is, taking breaks during the training process.

They recruited 31 students to learn a difficult computer task - tracking groups of moving dots disguised amid visual distractions on the screen.

The subjects were divided into three groups, each of which was asked to learn the task in different ways.

On the first day, a control group spent one hour training and an overtraining group spent two hours non-stop at the task. A third group also trained for two hours, but with a one-hour break between sessions with subjects choosing their own activities – except sleep.

On the second day, it was found that the control group had mastered the task better than the overtraining group, despite training for only half the time. Likewise the waking consolidation group had also learnt better than the overtrainers, even though the two groups had spent the same total time training.

Explore further: Sleep disturbances hurt memory consolidation

More information: dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2012.1423

Related Stories

Sleep disturbances hurt memory consolidation

March 28, 2012
Sleep disturbance negatively impacts the memory consolidation and enhancement that usually occurs with a good night's sleep, according to a study published Mar. 28 in the open access journal PLoS ONE.

Pausing to make memories

October 10, 2011
Before the effects of training become hard-wired, the neural imprint of a newly learned motor skill is initially encoded in a temporary ‘holding area’ for memory, after which the memory ‘trace’ is transferred ...

The benefits of meditation: Neuroscientists explain why the practice helps tune out distractions and relieve pain

May 5, 2011
Studies have shown that meditating regularly can help relieve symptoms in people who suffer from chronic pain, but the neural mechanisms underlying the relief were unclear. Now, MIT and Harvard researchers have found a possible ...

Our brains have multiple mechanisms for learning

July 14, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- One of the most important things humans do is learning this kind of pattern: when A happens, B follows. A new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of ...

Surgeons perform better with eye movement training

November 30, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Surgeons can learn their skills more quickly if they are taught how to control their eye movements.

Recommended for you

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Using money to buy time linked to increased happiness

July 24, 2017
New research is challenging the age-old adage that money can't buy happiness.

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Neuroticism may postpone death for some

July 24, 2017
Data from a longitudinal study of over 500,000 people in the United Kingdom indicate that having higher levels of the personality trait neuroticism may reduce the risk of death for individuals who report being in fair or ...

Psychologists say our 'attachment style' applies to social networks like Facebook

July 24, 2017
A new investigation appearing this week in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests a strong association between a person's attachment style—how avoidant or anxious people are in their close relationships—and ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.