Anat Arzi of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel have discovered a way to ‘teach’ people while they are in their unconscious sleep, finally putting those unconscious Z’s to another good use. Now let’s take a step back, when they say that the patients have learned, they don’t mean you can study up your college courses in your sleep, they really mean that they have taught them to associate one event with another. Or in more professional terms one stimulus with another. This is also called Pavlovian conditioning, named after the scientist Ivan Pavlov who won the 1904Nobel Prize in physiology. He managed to condition his dogs to associate a bell ringing with getting fed to such a point that he made his dogs drool whenever he rang the bell.
The researchers and Anat Arzi used this process – by pairing certain sounds with different scents and smells – to condition 55 sleepy volunteers to detect certain smells whenever they heard different sounds, similarly to that of the bell in Ivan’s experiment. The research also shows that this form of conditioning can either be done at any time of the patient’s sleep; however, it is most effective at making a long lasting and strong connection when it is done during the REM (also known as rapid eye movement, which occurs throughout the night but more closely towards the end of the sleep and takes up to 25% of your sleep time) sleep.
But however, one of the coolest aspects of the experiment is that the sleeping patients were unaware of what kind of conditioning that was being taught to them, making the experiment oh so much more interesting and cooler. Another great thing is that even after the patients gain consciousness, they will still retain some of the conditioning where they would smell either something pleasant or something disgruntling whenever the sound stimuli is presented, even if there is no physical odors being released.
Anat Arzi hopes to further the research of sleep-learning to discover the limits of dream learning, and maybe just maybe, Anat and the research team could take this another step further. Yet for now that is only wishful thinking, however, only time can tell.
Tags: REM, sleep, learning, conditioning, science, neuroscience,
Costandi, Mo. "How to Learn in Your Sleep." Nature.com. Nature Publishing Group, July-Aug. 2012. Web. 07 Sept. 2012.