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If re-play during sleep improves the storage of wake-learned information, then first-play -- i.e., the initial processing of new information -- should also be feasible during sleep, potentially carving out a memory trace that lasts into wakefulness. This was the research question of Katharina Henke, Marc Züst und Simon Ruch of the Institute of Psychology and of the Interfaculty Research Cooperation "Decoding Sleep" at the University of Bern, Switzerland. These investigators now showed for the first time that new foreign words and their translation words could be associated during a midday nap with associations stored into wakefulness. Following waking, participants could reactivate the sleep-formed associations to access word meanings when represented with the formerly sleep-played foreign words. The hippocampus, a brain structure essential for wake associative learning, also supported the retrieval of sleep-formed associations. The results of this experiment are published open access in the scientific journal Current Biology.
The research group of Katharina Henke examined whether a sleeping person is able to form new semantic associations between played foreign words and translation words during the brain cells' active states, the so-called "Up-states." When we reach deep sleep stages, our brain cells progressively coordinate their activity. During deep sleep, the brain cells are commonly active for a brief period of time before they jointly enter into a state of brief inactivity. The active state is called "Up-state" and the inactive state "Down-state." The two states alternate about every half-second.
Associations - Words - Language - Translations - Words
Semantic associations between sleep-played words of an artificial language and their German translations words were only encoded and stored, if the second word of a pair was repeatedly (2, 3 or 4 times) played during an Up-state. E.g., when a sleeping person heard the word pairs "tofer = key" and "guga = elephant," then after waking they were able to categorize with a...
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