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October 19, 2006

Drowsy Memory

Although perhaps not on-point to the subject of this blog, a story in Science today regarding sleep deprivation and memory is quite interesting nonetheless.  Neuroscientist Matthew Walker, from Harvard, found that students who had gone without sleep the night before did considerably (and significantly) worse in a word-memory task than students who had a normal night's sleep.  The sleep-deprived students recalled about 40% fewer words.  The researchers found, however, that words with strong negative connotations were remembered better (e.g., cancer or jail) than those with positive associations (e.g., sunshine or happy).  The researchers suggested that the brain might remember negative words better under such circumstances, because such skills were adaptive in evolutionary terms.  In a follow-up study, fMRI skans indicated that sleep-deprived students had less activity in the hippocampus.  The story explains that "[t]his suggests that just as sleep is important for consolidating new memories after they're learned, as other studies have shown, it's equally important for preparing the brain to learn new things the following day."  The full story can be found here.
--- DLF

October 19, 2006 | Permalink

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