The method of practice

By | Health & Wellness
The computer game Axon was used to monitor decision making skills, the ability to make moves quickly and their understanding of the game. Credit@societyforscience flickr

Traced back to the 1550’s the proverb ‘use makes perfect’, now known as ‘practice makes perfect’, has been put to the test by psychologists at the University of Sheffield, UK. The team analysed data from nearly 100,000 players of online computer game, Axon, and found an interesting twist on the validity of the archaic saying.

Research suggested when it comes to learning new skills, the way one practices is more important than the frequency of practice. The information offers a healthy insight into how one may seek to improve skills such as playing a musical instrument, technique in a sport and learning basic co-ordination skills.

The computer game, Axon, requires players to guide a neuron towards different connections by clicking potential targets and was chosen specifically to measure participants decision making skills, the ability to make moves quickly and their understanding of the games principles.

The aim of the study was to determine how game practice impacted the performance of the participants. A tracking code was placed inside each computer to monitor players. The recordings were able to identify each individual machine every time the game was loaded and tracked participants scores, as well as the date and time they played the game.

The results showed that among the participants who played the game for the same amount of time, some players faired higher scores. The research team say some participants were analysing how the game works, leading them to perform better. Their findings suggest individuals who were able to learn faster had spaced out their practice or had registered fluctuating results during early game performances.

Speaking to Medical News Today, Dr. Tom Stafford of the psychology department at the University of Sheffield said: “People who were inconsistent at the beginning of play performed better later on. This was surprising, it reflects a willingness to explore the parameters of the game. You can gain the knowledge needed to support superior performance later on.” “If we can work out how to learn more efficiently we can learn more things, or the same things in less time. In an economy where we’re all working for longer and longer, the ability to learn across the lifespan is increasingly important,” he added.

Dr. Stafford also notes collecting data from online gaming is an effective method of research into human learning traits and is keen to work with game designers in order to develop future studies, he said: “This kind of data affords us to look in an unprecedented way at the shape of the learning curve, allowing us to explore how the way we practice helps or hinders learning.”

To understand how to make the met of practicing there is a need to understand the effect it has on the brain. The brain integrates a complex set of actions including motor function, audio and visual processing, verbal language skills, and more. Initially, new skill sets may feel unnatural and awkward; as practice skills start to feel more fluent and comfortable. This process is called myelination.

Myelination is where an electrically insulating layer known as a myelin sheath develops over neurons, which are responsible for transmitting electrical signals throughout the body. The myelin sheath targets the part of neuron where electrical signals are transmitted. The signals along neurons minimal in myelin sheath tend to be slower and therefore the process of myelination increases the speed of transduction. Through the correct practice it kick starts the process of myelination and enable a more natural approach to new skills through the stronger link from the brains electrical signals to the body. The new findings may offer the understanding practicing skills analytically and efficiently may be more important than practice and its relationship to time.

How might these findings help people’s skills and memory?

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