Taking frequent breaks is a favorite procrastination method for students everywhere. It turns out, that taking a break can help you learn better. A new study from the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) suggests that breaks not only help people remember what they just learned, but also boost future learning. The study builds off existing evidence that resting the mind and daydreaming can reinforce memories. The new research suggests that the right kind of mental breaks between learning can help individuals connect new information to already-formed memories, speeding up the learning process.
For the study, adult participants completed two learning tasks with a break in between. The researchers asked participants to memorize a set of associated photo pairs. After the task, the participants rested and were permitted to let their minds wander. After the break, the participants completed a similar photo memorization task. Later, the researchers evaluated how the participants spent their time during their break and conducted brain scans.
The findings indicate that the participants who used their break to reflect on the first learning task did better on the second learning task. The participants who reflected did particularly well where the first and second tasks had information in common. The researchers suggest that these participants were more easily able to learn during the second task because they were linked the new information to their memories of the first task.
“We’ve shown for the first time that how the brain processes information during rest can improve future learning. We think replaying memories during rest makes those earlier memories stronger, not just impacting the original content, but impacting the memories to come,” stated co-author Alison Preston, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UT Austin.
The study contributes to evidence demonstrating that memory and learning and not isolated processes. People learn by making connections to existing memories. This study could inform best practices for educators. Teachers who activate students’ prior knowledge could help the students learn new information more efficiently.
This research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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