Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Learn a new skill and keep your brain in shape

There are many ways of keeping our brain in shape. We know that physical exercise, particularly endurance training, is beneficial for our cognitive functions. So is socialising, and also targeted brain training may help. Recent research now suggests that learning new skills enhances memory.

Denise C. Park from the University of Texas in Dallas and colleagues assigned elderly adults to different conditions: the three experimental groups learned to quilt, digital photography, or both; the two control groups engaged in social or low-demand cognitive abilities. They found that in the conditions where individuals learned a new skill (quilt, digital photography) for about three months memory was enhanced compared to the control conditions.

The original study was published in the journal Psychological Science. There is an outline of the study with a short audio report on the NPR website.

The researchers think the key to this beneficial effect of learning a new skill is the fact that it enhances the connectivity between large-scale networks in the brain. They compare it to an orchestra where all the instruments need to play in harmony, which of course requires practice. New challenges thus seem to be good for our brain – and as we learned in a previous post mastering them can contribute to our happiness and self-confidence.

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