It is well-known among the scientific community that Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Practicing the same task repetitively, though, tends to be the default procedure when trying to learn a new motor skill.
A study led by Maurice Smith and colleagues at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) suggests that simple task repetition may not be the most efficient way for the brain to learn a new move.
Their results, published in PLoS Computational Biology
, demonstrate "motion-referenced learning." In essence, when people make an imperfect movement during practice, their brains learn less about what they plan to do than about what they actually do.
With that in mind, the researchers propose a new approach to neurological rehabilitation: one that continually adjusts the goals of practice movements so that systematic differences (errors) between these movements and the intended motion can be reduced.
In order to perform any movement accurately—whether that means reaching for a glass of juice without knocking it over, or swimming across a pool without sinking—the brain has to learn exactly which muscles to activate, and in what manner.
The muscle activation required for a given movement depends on the environment. For example, producing a swimming motion on the pool deck is not the same as doing it in the water, and picking up a glass of juice requires a different motion when your arm is weighed down by a heavy bag.