What if gender and race prejudices and biases can be diminished or even fixed during sleep? According to scientists from the University of Texas in Austin, a good night’s sleep can aid to modify rooted attitudes and preconceptions in people.
Researchers have long known that sleep is increasing the memory formation by revitalizing faint neuron activity which is shaped during earlier time periods, when the individual is awake.
This entire process can be stimulated by offering a sleeping individual different cues related to a preceding period of learning.
Xiaoqing Hu from the department of Psychology at the University of Texas and his colleagues have expanded these discoveries to reveal that this method is not only working for recently acquired information but also to change or influence implicit attitudes that were learned during childhood.
The scientists targeted prejudices of gender and race.
In a test made of exercises aimed to counter typical gender and racial biases, the participants in the test were shown pictures of women and men of different races. They then learned to associate genders and races with opposing features such as female faces with science-related words or black men with positive words.
A specific sound was then associated with every type of counter-bias. The participants took a nap which lasted for 90 minutes during which one sound, which was assigned randomly, was played repeatedly to reactivate and cue a newly-learned association.
Minutes after waking the participants, the scientists discovered that implicit social prejudices were reduced for the counter-bias training which reactivated during sleep. The process was repeated again one week later, when subjects who hadn’t heard tone signals had turned back to their previous level of bias, while those who’d heard the tones in their sleep maintained a 20 percent reduction.
“The study should inspire research to solve remaining issues of targeted memory reactivation during sleep so that its mechanisms are fully understood. What we think is happening is that the new memory is stored in the hippocampus. But when it’s activated by this sound cue, perhaps it’s reorganized into the neocortex, where memories are more stable and longer lasting” the authors wrote.
The research adds further support to recent studies that have revealed that memories can be selectively strengthened and reactivated during slumber.
The study was carried out with support from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
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