A new study conducted by scientists at Simon Fraser University suggests that the brain can learn faster when threatened by danger, the study published in the journal eNeuro reported.
The human body is constantly learning to adapt to new situations. During motor learning, the brain corrects actions that lead to movement errors to develop movement patterns that allow the body to move more safely.
“Because of our innate desire for safety and the fact that maintaining balance is the foundation of movement, we hypothesized that experiencing the balance-threatening physical consequences of committing a movement error would promote motor memory,” explained Amanda Bakkum, a former graduate student in SFU’s sensorimotor neuroscience lab, who conducted the study with Professor Dan Marigold, deputy director of SFU’s Institute for Neuroscience and Neurotechnology.
To test the idea, the researchers asked a group of participants to perform a precision walking task while wearing vision-altering prismatic lenses. The lenses increased the difficulty of the task by artificially shifting participants’ perception of the location of the target to be stepped on, which led to errors.
For some participants, the task was even more difficult, as there was a hazard next to the target that could cause them to slip and lose their balance. When this group returned the following week, they were better able to remember and complete the task.
With the threat of possible injury, the participants’ motor learning improved. They were better able to correct their movement errors so they could perform tasks more safely in the future.
The researchers suggest that their findings could be used to develop more effective treatments for rehabilitating people with neurological impairments.
The findings also suggest that there may be other situations that can be used to improve motor learning.