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|Can Language Learning Happen
A new study suggests some language learning can take place during sleep.
Researchers from Switzerland’s University of Bern say they discovered people were able to learn new language words during deep levels of sleep. Results of the study recently appeared in the publication Current Biology.
Sleeping hours are generally considered unproductive time. But several studies have suggested some learning activity can happen. Studies involving mice provided evidence that sleep learning is possible in the brain of mammals.
Other human studies, the Swiss researchers said,
found that simple learning through sounds may be possible during sleep.
But they added that “complex verbal learning” has not yet been
The researchers theorized that, if replay during
sleep improves the storage of information that is learned while awake,
the processing and storage of new information should also be possible
The experiments centered on periods of deep
sleep called “up-states.” They identified these slow-wave peaks as the
best moments for sleep-learning.
For later identification purposes, the German
words chosen were things clearly larger or smaller than a shoebox.
When the subjects woke, they were presented with the false language words – both by sight and sound. They were then asked to guess whether the false word played during sleep represented an object smaller or larger than a shoebox.
During this part of the experiment, some of the subjects had their brain activity recorded by magnetic imaging technology. This was meant to measure brain activity when the subjects were giving their answers to the questions.
Results of the study found that a majority of subjects gave more correct answers about the sleep-learned words than would be expected if they had only guessed at random.
The researchers said they measured increased signals affecting a part of the brain known as the hippocampus. This brain structure is very important for building relational memory during non-sleep periods. The researchers said memory was best for word pairs presented during slow-wave peaks during sleep.
The study suggests that memory formation in sleep appears to be caused by the same brain structures that support vocabulary learning while awake.
The researchers say more studies are needed to support their findings. However, the experiments do provide new evidence that memories can be formed and vocabulary learning can take place in both conscious and unconscious states.
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