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Twiddling your thumbs can boost up your brain

A study has found that sitting around twiddling our thumbs could in fact be vital for learning.

india Updated: Feb 14, 2006 13:01 IST

If you think that slogging for hours will help you learn something, then think again, for a new study has found that sitting around twiddling our thumbs could in fact be vital for learning.

The study, by neuroscientists David Foster and Matthew Wilson working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, was carried out the brains of rats as they explored their environments.

As a part of the research, the scientists inserted a pincushion of fine wires into the rats' skulls, which allowed them to simultaneously monitor the electrical activity of around 100 individual brain cells in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in learning and memory.

According to Nature magazine, they then placed each rat in a straight 1.5-metre run, and recorded the brain-cell activity as the rats scurried up and down, pausing at each end to eat, groom and scratch their whiskers.

As the rats ran along the track, the nerve cells fired in a very specific sequence. They found that when the rats were resting, the same brain cells replayed the sequence of electrical firing over and over, but in reverse and speeded up.

The researchers found that the rats' brains thus seemed to 'replay' their experiences in reverse when the animals pause briefly to rest.

The scientists now believe that this finding could have many implications for human learning as well, for it suggests that those idle times, perhaps spent gazing into space, are actually crucial for our brains to replay, and learn from, recent experiences.

First Published: Feb 14, 2006 13:01 IST