Humans can learn new information during sleep
Paper Abstract: During sleep, humans can strengthen previously acquired memories, but whether they can acquire entirely new information remains unknown. The nonverbal nature of the olfactory sniff response, in which pleasant odors drive stronger sniffs and unpleasant odors drive weaker sniffs, allowed us to test learning in humans during sleep. Using partial-reinforcement trace conditioning, we paired pleasant and unpleasant odors with different tones during sleep and then measured the sniff response to tones alone during the same nights’ sleep and during ensuing wake. We found that sleeping subjects learned novel associations between tones and odors such that they then sniffed in response to tones alone. Moreover, these newly learned tone-induced sniffs differed according to the odor pleasantness that was previously associated with the tone during sleep. This acquired behavior persisted throughout the night and into ensuing wake, without later awareness of the learning process. Thus, humans learned new information during sleep.
Could your mind be reprogrammed while you’re asleep?
Researchers have proved that people can be conditioned with behaviors in their sleep — and then exhibit those same behaviors when they’re awake, without any memory of the earlier training. While there’s some suggestion this could lead to methods of learning information in your sleep, the potential for night-time conditioning is pretty scary.
A new paper published in Nature Neuroscience shows that people can be conditioned to respond to a particular sound, via the use of smells. And the research tells us a lot about how your brain learns when you’re asleep and dreaming.
In the experiment, which was conducted by Noam Sobel, Anat Arzi, and Ilana Hairston at the Weizmann Institute in Tel Aviv, volunteers were sprayed with both pleasant and unpleasant odors while they were fast asleep. And like people who are wide awake, the volunteers reacted by taking either weaker breaths (like short sniffing) when the smell was nasty, and stronger, longer breaths when it was nice.
At the same time that the smells were being administered, the researchers matched each smell with a very specific tone. They performed the experiment repeatedly and long enough to provoke a Pavlovian response in the volunteers such that, while they were still sleeping, they could either elicit the shallow or deep breath response by simply playing the sound associated with either the pleasant or unpleasant odor.
Read the rest of the article here: Life Hacker