You can swot up on vocabulary in your sleep – but only if you don’t confuse your brain in the process. Researchers funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation have invited people to their sleep lab for a Dutch language course.
You can’t learn new things in your sleep. Nevertheless, if you’ve been learning vocabulary in a foreign language, it can be highly effective to hear these words played over again while you sleep, as was already shown a year ago by researchers from the university of Zurich and Fribourg. Their new study, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, demonstrates that this only works if the brain can do its job undisturbed (*).
Translating doesn’t help
The researchers got 27 German-speaking test subjects to learn Dutch words, then let them sleep for three hours in the sleep lab. The scientists already knew that playing back this vocabulary softly would help the test subjects to remember the words. Now they wanted to give them more information while they were asleep.
The research team, led by biopsychologist Björn Rasch from the University of Fribourg, wanted to enhance the technique’s impact by supplying German translations after the Dutch words. They also wanted to achieve the opposite – in other words, they hoped that supplying incorrect translations would make the test subjects forget what they’d learnt.
“To our surprise, we were neither able to enhance their memory, nor able to make them forget what they’d learnt”, says Rasch. He was able to confirm the original findings – that simply cueing the Dutch vocabulary during sleep enabled the subjects to recall about ten percent more words.
“But playing a second word right after the first seems to disrupt the relevant memory processes that had hitherto been activated”, says Rasch. He and his team have concluded that it’s not the total information offered to the brain that is important. Instead, the brain just needs a nudge in order to enhance the ability to recall.
Only in the lab – for now
The results of this memory test were reflected in the brain wave patterns of the test subjects. While individual Dutch words were being played, the researchers recorded an enhancement in the waves characteristic of sleep and recollection (sleep spindles and theta-oscillation). But these activity patterns disappeared completely as soon as another word followed on from the first.
In a subsequent experiment, the researchers were also able to demonstrate that the time span between word pairs was of decisive importance. If the German translation followed only after 2 seconds instead of after 0.2 seconds, the disruptive effect disappeared. But there was still no enhancement of impact.
“For us, these results are further evidence that sleep promotes memory formation, with the brain spontaneously activating content that it had learnt beforehand. We were able to enhance this effect by playing back the words”, says Rasch. It’s as yet uncertain whether there will soon be an app to help people get better marks in their vocabulary tests. “Now we really want to get out of the controlled situation of the sleep lab, to see whether the impact we’ve observed can also be reproduced under realistic conditions in everyday life”, he says.
(*) Thomas Schreiner, Mick Lehmann and Björn Rasch (2015). Auditory feedback blocks memory benefits of cueing during sleep. Nature Communications. doi:10.1038/ncomms9729
(The SNSF can provide members of the media with a PDF file of this article. Please contact email@example.com)
Professor Björn Rasch
Cognitive Biopsychology and Methods
Department of Psychology
University of Fribourg
Tel: +41 26 300 76 37 and +41 77 445 65 64
http://www.snsf.ch > Research in Focus > Media > Press releases
Media - Abteilung Kommunikation | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University
New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.
In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...
A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.
By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...
Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy