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 ...

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 ...

Recommended for you

Game study not playing around with PTSD relief

May 26, 2017

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients wrestling with one of its main symptoms may find long-term relief beyond medication thanks to the work of a Western researcher.

Bouldering envisioned as new treatment for depression

May 25, 2017

A growing body of research suggests that bouldering, a form of rock climbing, can help build muscle and endurance while reducing stress—and a new study co-led by a University of Arizona doctoral student of psychology suggests ...

Study documents range of challenging meditation experiences

May 24, 2017

Meditation is increasingly being marketed as a treatment for conditions such as pain, depression, stress and addiction, and while many people achieve therapeutic goals, other meditators encounter a much broader range of experiences—sometimes ...

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.