We tend to believe that TV rots the brain; YouTube, meanwhile, may actually be beneficial to your learning skills. New research suggests that watching a video of simple tasks before actually doing them may boost the brain’s structure, also known as plasticity, and may increase motor skills.
“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,” study author Dr. Paolo Preziosa said in a press release. “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 study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 66th Annual Meeting. It reviewed 36 right-handed healthy adults, who participated in 40-minute training sessions five times a week, for two weeks. Half of the group watched videos of specific tasks like writing with a pen or cutting with scissors, then were asked to do the tasks themselves. The other half of participants watched videos of landscapes and were asked to complete the same tasks. The researchers measured strength and hand skills as well as brain volume.
Those who watched videos of the tasks beforehand had 11 times greater improvement of motor skill abilities, especially in strength, the scientists found.
The brain’s plasticity is its ability to adapt to improved learning; it loses its plasticity as it gets older. Neuroplasticity is another term for the same notion. The brain can change and grow even as an adult, by rewiring itself, although originally, most scientists believed that by the time a person was 25, their brains were set for life. For adults or people suffering from brain injuries, psychotherapy has been used primarily to help that inch that process of "rewiring" forward. “Psychotherapy works by rewiring the brain,” Dr. Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist, told PostitScience. “Every time you become aware of something new in a psychotherapeutic session, you activate an existing rigid neural network, you make it more malleable and you can alter it with the help of awareness.”
The notion of neuroplasticity has spurred the idea of “brain gyms,” or mental exercises, which can help improve memory, the ability to think on one’s feet, and processing speed. On a similar note, watching YouTube tutorials or other videos on how to complete tasks or learn new activities can help keep the brain flexible and adaptive. Other ways to keep the brain flexible include exercise and social activities.
Preziosa believes his study could be useful to people who are undergoing rehabilitation or therapy from injuries to the brain as well as mental health disorders. “The results [of the study] might also contribute to reducing disability and improving quality of those who are impaired or who are undergoing physical rehabilitation,” Preziosa said.