Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Every Friday, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:
Do you remember learning to walk? Of course you do! Who could forget struggling to figure out how to move one leg, maintaining your balance while doing so, bending the knee at just the right angle, then placing your foot squarely on the ground before attempting to move the other leg? Literally hundreds of individual muscles are involved. It’s complicated stuff. If you’re anything like me, you probably fell down a lot while trying to get this right.
But now, walking requires hardly any concentration at all. That’s because of muscle memory, your brain’s ability to memorize which combinations of muscle movements are required to perform basic, everyday tasks. The more you practice doing something (swimming, riding a bicycle, dancing the tango…) the easier it will become because your brain learns to perform all the necessary motions automatically.
There’s a good chance you’ve already heard about muscle memory and already know exactly what it means. I hate sharing stuff most of my readers already know (which is why I have yet to write a blog post defining photosynthesis), but I decided to do this as today’s Sciency Word anyway because for a long time, I misunderstood the meaning of this term.
I assumed muscle memory had more to do with weight training, as in muscles become stronger and better suited to a specific activity, “remembering” in a metaphorical sense how that activity is done. I didn’t know it had anything to do with memory in the literal sense, as in memory stored in the brain.
I figure if I made this erroneous assumption, perhaps some of my readers did as well. Hopefully we will all keep expanding our scientific vocabularies together!