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Taking short breaks between tasks helps develop new motor skills – WSU Insider

Taking short breaks when learning a new skill can help someone better learn the task at hand, according to a new study published in the Journal of Motor Learning and Development.

Shikha Prashad, assistant professor of kinesiology at Washington State University’s College of Education, as well as director of the college’s cognitive motor neuroscience lab, leads a team that determines the underlying processes that occur during learning motor skills.

Central to this research is the importance of taking short breaks, and how these breaks influence the learning of motor movements. These movements include daily activities such as walking, driving a car, playing a musical instrument, typing, or playing sports.

Study participants were instructed to learn a series of movements in a specific order by pressing keys on a computer keyboard. Some of the movements were easier, occurring in a predictable and repetitive order, while others were less predictable and appeared according to rules of probability.

“A probabilistic driving sequence can be equivalent to playing football where players have to constantly adapt to changing pitch conditions and team strategies,” said Prashad.

In the task, participants responded to stimuli on a computer screen and their reaction times were recorded. Participants also took two-minute breaks throughout the experiment.

The researchers confirmed that for the less complex sets of movements, participants improved their performance as they performed the movements during the workouts. This part was not new.

But the research team, which includes colleagues Yue Du from Johns Hopkins University and Jane E. Clark from the University of Maryland, found that performance also improved after short breaks during workouts. themselves.

“These pauses are essential for strengthening our memory and facilitating learning,” said Prashad. “These rest periods were essential for learning the most complex movements. “

Additionally, research has shown that a long period of rest is not a prerequisite for learning motor movements. Even small pauses strengthen the memory of the movement, making it easier to reproduce.

“Previously, it was believed that we could only consolidate our motor memory and improve our performance during longer periods of rest, such as a good night’s sleep, but our study showed that short two-minute breaks also lead to improvements. performance, ”said Prashad. noted.

During the learning process, the brain makes new connections between neurons. When a person takes short breaks during the learning process, it gives the brain time to establish and strengthen these neural connections.

Bottom line for coaches, trainers, teachers or mentors: It is important to take several short breaks during – and not just between – training sessions,

“Practice is essential for improving the performance of a motor skill, but it should be accompanied by short breaks as these are also essential for learning,” said Prashad. “We have found that these pauses are essential for the most complex movements and this is important because the motor tasks we learn in everyday life require learning complex sequences of actions. “

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