Want to learn more? You need to daydream, says study

You know when you’re working hard to learn something new and people tell you that you need to calm down and stop stressing? Annoying, isn’t it? What’s even more annoying is that they’re right.

New research suggests that rather than pushing yourself to take in new information, your time would be better spent daydreaming, and if your mind happens to wander to what you already know about the topic, so much the better.

Dr Alison Preston, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Texas at Austin and graduate student Margaret Schlichting conducted a study where they asked people to memorise several series of photo pairs. They then used imaging technology to track participants’ brainwaves while they rested and thought/had a daydream about whatever they wanted.

The researchers found that those participants who relaxed and reflected on what they had learned did better on related tests later on. Previously, scientists had assumed that old memories make it harder to take in new information but it seems that might not be the case at all. Instead, making links between existing memories and new information strengthens our ability to retain it.

Dr Preston says that this could help teachers design more effective lesson plans: if you’re teaching something new, pupils will be more likely to absorb it if you remind them what they already know about a similar or related subject, and allow their brains to free-associate a little to make connections. However, so far they’ve only tested this on adult participants. Their next step will be to run the same experiment with children, to see if the results are the same.

Image via  nicolethewholigan’s Flickr.

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