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Friday, December 8, 2023


Giving the mind a break increases knowledge retention

Shower Thinking

Francis Emelogu/The Cougar

Summer is winding down, and it’s time to schedule study group sessions instead of pool parties and trade in beach balls for textbooks. It’s time to fall back into the routine of everyone’s favorite activity — studying.

Learning preferences and the type of class affect how students study.

While a Netflix marathon the night before a big test is never recommended, studies show that taking a break to do a distracting task can help one make better decisions, generate more creative ideas and refocus one’s attention on the primary task at hand.

Brain imaging research conducted by Carnegie Mellon University suggests that the regions of the brain that are activated during the decision-making process are reactivated even when one is occupied with a different task.

Twenty-seven adults participated in a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon in which they read information about cars and other items. Before making decisions about these items, the researchers gave participants a distractor task where they had to memorize number sequences.

The study’s findings suggested that even though the participants were consciously thinking about the distractor task of memorizing the number sequences, participants’ brains continued to unconsciously process the information they received about the cars prior to the new task. The findings also suggested that the participants were able to make better quality decisions when they returned to the previous task.

Business Insider suggests taking a shower to unconsciously process decisions. By giving ourselves a chance to consciously distance ourselves from the decision that needs to be made, such as what to write about for an upcoming paper, the solution arrives in our minds as the thoughts “incubate” unconsciously.

Biology graduate student Bhoomi Bhatt said that study breaks are a necessity due to the length and complexity of her readings.

“I take a lot of breaks,” Bhatt said. “Last semester, I had taken advanced molecular biology. We had a take home exam and I had to review five research papers.”

During finals time, Bhatt said she found it hard to concentrate on writing after having to do all the reading.

“It was really difficult and I wasn’t able to think properly. Taking breaks really helps,” Bhatt said.

Dr. Alejandro Lleras, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois, said he doesn’t believe the common idea that performance suffers when attention runs out.

Lleras said that attention is not the problem. He said that when our body becomes accustomed to a constant stimulus, such as clothing touching our skin, we no longer register the stimulus. Similarly, when one’s attention is directed at a single task for an extended period of time, we become unaware of it.

In his 2011 study, Lleras found that a group of participants given two breaks during a 50 minute task performed better than the control group that did not have any breaks.

“From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks, it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself,” Lleras said. “Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task.”

Now that school has started again, students should take some time in the first few weeks of class to figure out study schedules and methods work best for them. Being aware of personal study habits and what works best is essential in reaching set goals for the semester.

Taking brief breaks between periods of studying is a great way to keep focused and ensure better performance on the task at hand. Whether it’s watching TV or taking a walk, finding a stress-free activity to do in between study periods will help refresh the mind as it processes information.

For students interested in receiving tutoring or attending counseling or workshops to help improve study habits, visit Learning Support Services in Cougar Village.

Opinion columnist Rama Yousef is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected].


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