Why Are Breaks During Study Important?

Neuroscientists say that taking breaks during study can improve your memory, focus, and attention, a phenomenon which is known as the “spacing effect.”

Spacing Effect

The spacing effect is an effective method to learn and retain things. It works as per our brain and not against it. This term was first given by, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in his book that explores memory and learning processes.

Technically, in spacing effect, the information is effectively encoded for long-term memory when we have long breaks within the learning sessions. But yet many phenomena are unclear about the spacing during learning.

How do breaks affect learning?

An experiment was conducted on mice to understand how the spacing effect works. The experiment involved a task in which the mice had to find the chocolate within a maze. For this, they were given three opportunities, in the same maze and chocolate at the same place.

The researchers observed the different periods between the three intervals. It was interesting to note that the longer the breaks, the more the hindrance in the animal’s ability to remember the position of chocolate.

The mice who took longer time intervals found it challenging to remember the position of chocolate. But the next day, longer breaks improved the memory, says Annet Glas, a neurologist at Max Plank Institute.

It's break time

Mice have a spacing of 30 to 60 minutes between their learning processes. And spacing between these intervals improved their memory the next day. However, the retention of the brain does not depend on shorter or longer time breaks.

The dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (a region in our brain) is responsible for learning processes. Initially, the researchers expected the same neuron pathway during consecutive learning and believed that continuous learning activates the same neurons. Pieter Goltstein, another researcher, says that they thought that if longer breaks were provided to learn a piece of information, then the new set of information after the break would be stored with the new set of neurons.

Surprisingly, the opposite was discovered. Even after long breaks in the learning processes, similar neurons were active. Goltstein says that breaks can strengthen the learning process for long-term memory- mechanism observed in spacing effect.

The data for the experiment tells that the spacing increases the connectivity of neurons, making memory robust, increasing long-term learning, and reviving it.

This discovery is a direct description of the spacing effect and how the memory encoding mediates among the masses, a phenomenon described a century ago. 

In a similar article, we discussed Why You’re More Creative at Night?


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