A little stress helps you learn better

March 17th, 2008 - 3:18 pm ICT by admin  

New York, March 17 (IANS) There is no harm in a bit of stress - in fact, it helps you learn things better. At least that’s how it is among squirrels, says a new study. University of Chicago researchers who conducted the study found that squirrels learn more quickly while carrying out survival tasks if they have modest levels of cortisol, a hormone produced in response to stress.

In humans, cortisol production is linked to stress and is known to impact learning, but the process is not well understood, said lead researcher Jill Mateo. The research on squirrels could open up more avenues of research.

The results of the study have been published in the latest edition of the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

Squirrels must learn how to cope with the dangers of their environment to find their way back to their homes. The pups emerge from their nests about the time they’re weaned, at four weeks.

“Two hundred can emerge at the same time, providing a feast for predators,” said Mateo. About 30 percent of pups do not survive.

In order to test whether animals with low levels have difficulty learning, Mateo altered the amount of cortisol in the pups’ systems and found that those with both high and low cortisol levels took an average of 13 to 14 trials before navigating a maze, while the group of non-treated pups needed just nine.

She tested the animals’ response to danger by throwing a frisbee over the maze and also by sounding a birdcall to see how quickly the pups responded. High and low amounts of cortisol reduced the animals’ ability to learn how to respond to danger.

The animal tests also help to understand the potential human impact of low cortisol on learning, she said.

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