Daily Bulletin


Daily Bulletin

News

  • Written by Laura Bradfield, Research Fellow in Behavioural Neuroscience, University of Technology Sydney

As COVID-19 lockdowns were introduced, we all suddenly had to find new ways of doing things. Schooling shifted online, meetings moved to Zoom, workplaces brought in new measures and even social events have changed to minimise physical interactions.

Many of us have found it hard to adapt to these transformations in our lives. Our research into memory, learning, and decision-making suggests part of the reason is that, for our brains, the change didn’t simply involve transferring existing skills to a new environment.

More often, our brains are in effect learning entirely new skills, such as how to conduct a meeting while your cat walks across your computer keyboard, or how to work while filtering out the sound of kids yelling in the garden.

However, our research may also offer some reassurance that in time we will come to terms with a new way of life.

Read more: How memories are formed and retrieved by the brain revealed in a new study

How rats learn

Our new research, published in Nature Neuroscience, offers some suggestions about why doing new things can initially be so difficult, especially in a new or changing environment, but gets easier over time. Our findings indicate our surroundings have a changing influence on our choices and actions over time, and our brains process them differently as well.

We taught rats how to perform new actions, such as pressing a lever for food, in one place. Next, we moved them to another room with different wallpaper, flooring, and odours.

We then “asked” them to perform the same actions to receive a reward, but they were no longer able to do so. It was as if the rats needed to recall all the details of the memory of learning the task to perform it correctly, including the seemingly irrelevant ones.

A lab rat peering out of its cage. Even rats forget new skills when they’re moved to an unfamiliar environment. Shutterstock

Things were different when we tested the rats again a week later. By this time they could make accurate choices in either environment.

We also found that if we inactivated the hippocampus, the part of the brain that encodes detailed memories of the environment, rats could no longer perform a task they had just learned. However, they could still accurately perform tasks they had learned some time ago.

What this means for people

Our findings suggest that with experience and time, there’s a change in both the psychological mechanisms and the brain mechanisms of learning how to do new things and make choices.

While the hippocampus appears to be crucial for a brief period, it becomes less important as time goes on.

If even details that ultimately prove irrelevant are necessary for us to remember a new skill in the early stages of learning, this may help to explain why new behaviours can be so difficult to learn when our circumstances change. For our brains, working from home may be like learning a whole new job — not just doing the same job in a new place.

But the good news is it gets easier. In the same way rats eventually adapt to a new environment, we humans can learn to work with Zoom calls and interrupting pets.

Read more: Depression damages parts of the brain, research concludes

These findings may also help us understand conditions in which the hippocampus is damaged, such as Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, as well as psychiatric disorders such as depression and substance abuse. In time, better understanding could lead to insight into how people with such diseases might regain some functionality.

The implications for humans do come with caveats, of course: our study was done in rats, not people. But if you have struggled to adapt to a new way of doing things during this pandemic, we hope that it is of some comfort to know you are not alone. Rats, too, struggle to learn how to do new things in new places — but it does get easier over time.

Authors: Laura Bradfield, Research Fellow in Behavioural Neuroscience, University of Technology Sydney

Read more https://theconversation.com/slow-to-adjust-to-the-pandemics-new-normal-dont-worry-your-brains-just-learning-new-skills-144198

Writers Wanted

Phytonutrients can boost your health. Here are 4 and where to find them (including in your next cup of coffee)

arrow_forward

Healthcare, minerals, energy, food: how adopting new tech could drive Australia's economic recovery

arrow_forward

Review: new biography shows Vida Goldstein's political campaigns were courageous, her losses prophetic

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Prime Minister National Cabinet Statement

The National Cabinet met today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, the Victoria outbreak, easing restrictions, helping Australians prepare to go back to work in a COVID-safe environment an...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

How To Remove Rubbish More Effectively

It can be a big task to remove household rubbish. The hardest part is finding the best way to get rid of your junk. It can be very overwhelming to know exactly where to start with so many option...

News Company - avatar News Company

4 Tips To Pass Skills Certifications Tests

Developing the right set of skills is valuable not only to your career, but for life in general. You can get certified in these skills through obtaining a license. Without a certified license, y...

News Company - avatar News Company

How to Secure Home-Based Entrepreneurs from Cyber Threats

Small businesses are becoming a trend nowadays. The people with entrepreneurial skills and minds are adopting home-based businesses because of their advantage and ease of working from home. But...

News Company - avatar News Company



News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion