What’s the best way to broaden one’s horizons and expand a narrow view of the world?
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where you will find us shaking off the word “rigid”, for something grander and more inspiring.
The answer to that question, researchers think, is in just exposing yourself to something new. According to a study published this week in the US-based journal Psychological Science, exposure to new objects makes people ready to learn. What’s even more interesting is that the exposure could be incidental – meaning people are not even trying to understand the object and know nothing about it. They don’t set out to learn, but simply being exposed to a novel thing makes an impression in their minds, sparks their curiosity and gets them in the frame of mind to learn about it later.
When that “something new” that you seek out to understand, is a skill that can be studied and used, the reward is even more significant.
Physically, as we learn a new skill, it can rewire our brain within hours. According to a November 2009 study published in the UK-based journal Nature, the brain makes and breaks connections – both strengthening synapses that connect neurons to each other, or retracting them. The hippocampus region of the brain also grows new cells – a process known as neurogenesis – as it learns a new skill.
The study showed that in rats, this rewiring process can occur extremely fast. It’s why rodents can be trained to scamper to the right hole to get a reward of food.
But it’s worth realising that many of the new brain cells that are generated with the learning of new skills eventually die, unless we engage in consistent, effortful learning. So, if you tried your hand at learning a new language, but weren’t able to practice it regularly, you might see the vocabulary and conjugations slowly fading from your mind and memory – a skill forgotten as your brain prunes away certain pathways that it thinks are no longer needed.
The phrase “use it or lose it” comes to mind. It’s certainly true when it comes to learning new things – an essential if we want to broaden our perspective and embrace new ideas and skills.