Instead of focusing on a single task that engages the same part of the brain repeatedly, try to vary the types of skills you use. Carolee J. Winstein, from University of Southern California (California, USA), and colleagues have found that doing so engages different parts of the brain and improves its performance.
The team studied 59 men and women, one group of whom practiced a challenging arm movement, while the other group completed the arm movement and performed additional tasks in a variable practice structure. The participants in the variable practice group learned the arm movement better than those who practiced only the arm movement. Further, among those in the variable practice group, the process of consolidating memory of the skill engaged the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is associated with higher level planning. Among those who practiced only the arm movement, the engaged part of the brain was the primary motor cortex, which is associated with simple motor learning, the authors explained. The researchers conclude that: “Neural substrates of motor-memory consolidation are modulated by practice structure.”
- Shailesh S Kantak, Katherine J Sullivan, Beth E Fisher, Barbara J Knowlton, Carolee J Winstein. “Neural substrates of motor memory consolidation depend on practice structure.” Nature Neuroscience, 11 July 2010.