Tag Archives: neuroplasticity

Interleaving update


A few weeks ago I did a post about interleaving and for the most part I’ve been using this innovative learning strategy for learning new unicycle skills since then. In case you’ve forgotten, interleaving is a learning strategy that involves mixing things up instead of focusing on just one skill at a time. So far it appears to be working.

As you can see in the video I figured out how to juggle while idling one-footed(at least that’s how unicyclists would describe it). I even figured how to do the tricky two to one foot transition in only one practice session; I assumed it would take longer to learn the transition. Instead of a long block practice approach, I interleaved learning this skill with the closely related juggling while unicycling backwards. I would focus on one skill for 10 to 15 minutes, then switch to the other skill for 10 to 15 minutes, then back to the first skill, in an ABABA pattern for about 50 minutes to an hour or more. Of course in this heat breaks are very important.

It took a mere few weeks to learn juggling while idling one-footed though I can’t do it that well yet. I think interleaving did give me a learning boost. I also think the fact that it’s just an extension of juggling while idling two-footed, which I can do competently, was also a big help. There’s a lot of overlap, it’s really not that distinct of a skill in other words.

Since juggling while one-footed idling is a more challenging version of juggling while idling, I think it’s helping me polish my juggling while two-footed idling(sometimes the key to mastering something is to practice the more complex variation of what you’re trying to learn— you don’t even have to do the more complex variation that well to benefit from it). It would be interesting to see what happens if I try interleaving with skills that are unrelated.

It also helps that I mixed it up with juggling while unicycling backwards, which I can almost do competently now. Idling and backwards are related skills and if you can do one well it helps with learning the other. Idling is, after all, going forwards and backwards just a little.

So if you’re on a learning plateau with anything, consider experimenting with an interleaving approach or at least trying variations of what you’re trying to learn.

Musicians have larger corpus collosums

The benefits of playing a musical instrument are many, but did you know that if you learned to play an instrument early enough you may have a much larger corpus collosum than non-musicians?

What is this strange thing you ask? No no no, it is not what you are sitting on, that is the gluteus maximus. The corpus collosum(CC) connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain. It’s basically a bridge, but don’t tell the government or they will put tolls on it. Anyway, the CC appears to be significantly larger in musicians who started studying music before the age of 7:

Using in-vivo magnetic resonance morphometry it was investigated whether the midsagittal area of the corpus callosum (CC) would differ between 30 professional musicians and 30 age-, sex- and handedness-matched controls. Our analyses revealed that the anterior half of the CC was significantly larger in musicians. This difference was due to the larger anterior CC in the subgroup of musicians who had begun musical training before the age of 7. Since anatomic studies have provided evidence for a positive correlation between midsagittal callosal size and the number of fibers crossing through the CC, these data indicate a difference in interhemispheric communication and possibly in hemispheric (a)symmetry of sensorimotor areas. Our results are also compatible with plastic changes of components of the CC during a maturation period within the first decade of human life, similar to those observed in animal studies.

Studies like this are basically studying this really neat property of the brain called neuroplasticity. This basically means the brain can adapt or form new connections in response to learning. The brain adapts to learning how to juggle in a similar manner to how it adapts to learning to play an instrument. But you knew that already.

While brain plasticity is a feature of the brain at any age, young brains are more plastic than older ones. As the study suggested, the musicians with the much larger corpus collosums had been playing an instrument before age 7; learning after this age may not have the same permanent effect on optimizing growth of the corpus collosum.

This suggests a window of opportunity in learning things. The window isn’t completely closed after a certain age, there are after all many amazing musicians who started to learn to play well after age 7 obviously. On the other hand, how many 40 year old world famous virtuoso pianists are out there who have only been playing since the age of 35? Besides me, of course?

At this stage of research, we don’t really know if having a larger CC actually means a person is smarter(children who play an instrument regularly tend to do better in school, but that doesn’t mean that being a musician necessarily makes them smarter). On the other hand, it can’t be a bad thing. And since we are on the subject of the bridge between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, remember that the differences between the right and left hemispheres are mostly a myth. A very stubborn myth too.

Even if you can’t stimulate your corpus collosum to grow bigger after a certain age, keeping your brain active by learning something new is still the best way to keep your brain healthy.