2. Science

A Finch Song


Scientific studies of the zebra finch songbird show that sleep has some unusual effects on the bird’s memory. In a recent study, scientists discovered that newborn finches learned to sing by practicing and mimicking the sounds of mature birds. They noted the improvement of their song(s) throughout the day. But they also discovered something strange about these subject finches. During the early morning hours following a day of practice, their singing was actually terrible, even after they’d just practiced the day before. It was almost as if they were starting over every morning.


As the day progressed, however, the finches’ songs would improve until by the end of the day they were actually singing even better than they were at the start of the prior day. This cycle of two steps forward and one step back was repeatedly seen by researchers during this particular study of zebra finches.


Learning for me seems to work in a way similar to that of the finch. I recall, for example, studying well into the night for school exams but feeling unprepared the following morning. It was only after a couple of hours passed that I felt better able to recall the content that I’d studied the night prior. And by the end of the day I actually felt as though I knew material even better than the day I had studied – two steps forward and one step back.


It’s important to recognize your own personal rhythms. When are you best able to learn? What are the best times for you to read a book or a practice a skill? Are there times when you feel most alive and confident about life? Some people are hardly able to speak before they have a few cups of morning coffee. I find it hard to focus my attention on any serious matter after about 8:00PM.


Day 2 Guide


Like the zebra finches, we have specific times when our brains are working at their peak levels. Take time this week to find out when your brain is in the best shape to learn. Try reading or working on problems at different times during the day. When do you feel that you have the best ideas? Find the time when you brain is most alive.


© 2006, Levi Hill

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