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Taken together, these results provide evidence for a novel role for behavioral state modulation in associative learning and suggest a potential mechanism through which engaging in movement can improve an individual’s ability to learn.” Future research in the Carey Lab will try to answer bigger questions, such as why walking and other types of aerobic exercise seem to help us coordinate thoughts, organize ideas, and come up with creative solutions.
Anectodal evidence also links physical activity with "Aha! For example, Albert Einstein famously said of E = mc, "I thought of that while riding my bicycle." Along this same line, Manish Saggar of Stanford University has found f MRI brain imaging evidence that enhanced cerebellum connectivity boosts creative capacity.
It would be interesting to see if this holds for humans, for cerebellar forms of learning — and even for other types of learning," Carey said in a statement.
The authors conclude, “Our results suggest that locomotor activity modulates delay eyeblink conditioning through increased activation of the mossy fiber pathway within the cerebellum.
Interestingly, when the researchers stimulated the mossy fibers using optogenetics, they observed enhanced learning on par with faster running speeds.
Therefore, the researchers speculate that finding ways to directly stimulate mossy fiber activity might have the same benefits on associative learning as running.
"We don't know whether this is true for other, non cerebellar, kinds of learning,” Albergaria cautions.
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The mice in this study who had their treadmills set at a faster speed learned to associate the flash of light (which normally doesn’t cause mice to blink) with a puff of air more quickly.
So, even if there wasn’t a puff of air to accompany a flash of light, these mice automatically blinked.
“It doesn't necessarily need to be locomotion; anything that drives an increase in mossy fiber activity could provide an equivalent modulation of learning," Albergaria said.
Despite these groundbreaking findings about associative learning in the cerebellum, the authors are quick to point out that faster running speeds may not necessarily enhance learning speeds in other brain regions.
"We tend to think that to manipulate the plasticity of the brain, so that people learn faster and slow learners improve, we have to use drugs.