Brief reactivations of visual memories are enough to complete a full learning curve, researchers say

September 13, 2017
Credit: Tel Aviv University

A new Tel Aviv University study finds that brief memory reactivations can replace repeated extensive practice and training—commonly known as "practice makes perfect"—as a basis of procedural learning.

"Instead of bombarding our brain with repeated practice and training, people can utilize our new framework and improve learning with only several brief but highly efficient reactivations of a learned memory," said Dr. Nitzan Censor of TAU's School of Psychological Sciences. "In our study, instead of repeating a computer-based visual recognition hundreds of times, participants were briefly exposed to just five trials—each lasting only a few milliseconds.

"Our results can facilitate the development of strategies geared to substantially reduce the amount of practice needed for efficient learning, both in the healthy brain and in the case of neurological damage or disease."

The research was spearheaded by Dr. Censor's students Rony Laor-Maayany and Rotem Amar-Halpert, and published in Nature Neuroscience.

In procedural learning, individuals repeat a complex activity over and over again until all relevant neural systems work together to automatically produce the activity. It is essential for the development of any motor skill or cognitive activity.

The researchers hypothesized that brief periods of memory reactivation would be sufficient to improve basic visual perception and yield a full normal learning curve, supporting a new paradigm of human learning dynamics. They based their hypothesis on knowledge accumulated from studies in animal models.

For the study, 70 participants performed a visual discrimination computer-based task, in which flashed on a screen for several milliseconds. Afterwards, participants were required to learn to discriminate between features within a visual stimulus (for example to report whether the orientation of lines was vertical or horizontal). Such discrimination performance constitutes a common measure of human visual perception. The results revealed that subjects who underwent exposure of several seconds to a learned task later demonstrated the completion of an entire learning curve.

"After we conducted this basic and common visual discrimination task, participants returned for a session in which the visual memory was briefly reactivated and the task performed for only several seconds," said Dr. Censor. "A memory of the task was created and encoded in the participants' brains as they performed the task."

The subjects then participated in three additional sessions spread over three days, in which the memory of the initial visual task was briefly reactivated five times, the visual stimuli flashing for several milliseconds. On a separate day, the participants' performance rate was measured and compared to that of control subjects who had undergone a standard training protocol.

"Additional control experiments were carried out," said Dr. Censor. "These all suggested that we can leverage a new form of learning—reactivation-induced learning. Accordingly, brief 'ignitions' of the memory are sufficient to activate and improve the network encoded in our brains. This efficiently yields a full typical learning curve and challenges the 'practice-makes-perfect' basis of procedural learning."

The researchers are currently studying the neural mechanisms underlying this novel reactivation-induced learning.

Explore further: The brain mechanism behind multitasking

More information: Rotem Amar-Halpert et al, Memory reactivation improves visual perception, Nature Neuroscience (2017). DOI: 10.1038/nn.4629

Related Stories

The brain mechanism behind multitasking

June 21, 2017
Although "multitasking" is a popular buzzword, research shows that only 2% of the population actually multitasks efficiently. Most of us just shift back and forth between different tasks, a process that requires our brains ...

Brains are more plastic than we thought

July 19, 2017
Practice might not always make perfect, but it's essential for learning a sport or a musical instrument. It's also the basis of brain training, an approach that holds potential as a non-invasive therapy to overcome disabilities ...

Alcohol boosts recall of earlier learning

July 24, 2017
Drinking alcohol improves memory for information learned before the drinking episode began, new research suggests.

Score! Video gamers may learn visual tasks more quickly

March 31, 2015
Many studies show that video gamers perform better than non-gamers on certain visual tasks, like managing distractors and identifying targets, but a small new Brown University study provides gamers with some cognitive bonus ...

Forgetting is key to learning

December 18, 2015
Do you often feel overwhelmed with the amount of information coming at you? Forgotten your shopping list as soon as you've heard the sports results? Don't worry, it's all completely normal – and necessary – according ...

How sleep aids visual task learning

November 10, 2013
As any indignant teacher would scold, students must be awake to learn. But what science is showing with increasing sophistication is how the brain uses sleep for learning as well. At the annual meeting of the Society for ...

Recommended for you

Small but distinct differences among species mark evolution of human brain

November 23, 2017
The most dramatic divergence between humans and other primates can be found in the brain, the primary organ that gives our species its identity.

Team constructs whole-brain map of electrical connections key to forming memories

November 22, 2017
A team of neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania has constructed the first whole-brain map of electrical connectivity in the brain based on data from nearly 300 neurosurgical patients with electrodes implanted ...

To forget or to remember? Memory depends on subtle brain signals, scientists find

November 22, 2017
The fragrance of hot pumpkin pie can bring back pleasant memories of holidays past, while the scent of an antiseptic hospital room may cause a shudder. The power of odors to activate memories both pleasing and aversive exists ...

Pitch imperfect? How the brain decodes pitch may improve cochlear implants

November 22, 2017
Picture yourself with a friend in a crowded restaurant. The din of other diners, the clattering of dishes, the muffled notes of background music, the voice of your friend, not to mention your own – all compete for your ...

New research suggests high-intensity exercise boosts memory

November 22, 2017
The health advantages of high-intensity exercise are widely known but new research from McMaster University points to another major benefit: better memory.

Schizophrenia originates early in pregnancy, 'mini-brain' research suggests

November 20, 2017
Symptoms of schizophrenia usually appear in adolescence or young adulthood, but new research reveals that the brain disease likely begins very early in development, toward the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. The ...

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.