Monkey See, Monkey Do Better
February 19, 2014

Monkey See, Monkey Do Better

So I got this new terabyte hard-drive for my desktop computer, as it did not come with much in the way of memory, and found myself left with the challenge of installing it myself. Sure, this might not sound like much to the more computer/tech savvy among you, but for someone like me who knows about as much about the inner workings of a computer as I do the meaning of all life in the universe (though I am pretty sure it’s 42, but I could be wrong), this was an absolutely terrifying prospect. What if I messed something up? What if I unhooked the wrong thing and could not figure out how to fix it again? What if I somehow wiped my entire current hard-drive? Sure, a lot of silly worries, but there were quite genuine. So, how did I solve this? Well, first I called up a buddy of mine to ask for advise, and when he could not give me any really useful tips over the phone I just looked up videos on YouTube and watched them over and over again until I felt confident enough to try it myself and, of course, it worked without a hitch. Easy as pie, as they say. Now I find myself asking if those YouTube videos I watched did more than just guide me through it. What if those videos actually helped my brain adapt to this new task, helping me out in ways I might not even realize? According to the American Academy of Neurology, this may very well be the case.

A recent study conducted by the AAN has revealed that by watching videos, the human brain may actually be able to boost its own structure – its plasticity – when trying to learn how to perform some new task. For their study, they conducted a rather simple test. 36 healthy, right-handed adults took part in a 40-minute training session five times per week for two full weeks. Half of the group watched videos of a specific task such as writing with a pen, cutting with scissors, or handling money (coins, specifically), and were then asked to perform those same tasks themselves while the other half of the group watched videos of various landscapes and were then instructed to perform those same tasks as the previous group. At the start of the experiment, both groups were tested for strength and manual dexterity, as well as underwent a -D MRI scan. They each took these same tests two weeks later, at the end of the study. What the researchers discovered is that the group who watched the videos of the intended tasks had 11 times more improvement in motor skills, especially strength, as compared to the the other group who had only watched videos of various landscapes. According to study author Dr. Paolo Preziosa of the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, Italy, “Our study lends credence to the idea that even as an adult, your brain is able to better learn skills just by watching the activity take place. With a dramatic increase of videos available through mobile phones, computers, and other newer technology, this topic should be the focus of more research. The results might also contribute to reducing disability and improving quality of those who are impaired or who are undergoing physical rehabilitation.”

I fully agree that this should indeed be studied more closely. The mind is an amazing thing, and understanding how we can improve on our own ability to learn and develop is a great step forward in furthering ourselves as a people.

Image Credit: Sakonboon Sansri / Shutterstock

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