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How sleep aids visual task learning
Date:11/10/2013

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] As any indignant teacher would scold, students must be awake to learn. But what science is showing with increasing sophistication is how the brain uses sleep for learning as well. At the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego Nov. 10, 2013, Brown University researchers will discuss new research describing the neural mechanism by which the sleeping brain locks in learning of a visual task.

The mounting evidence is that during sleep the brain employs neural oscillations brainwaves of particular frequencies to consolidate learning in specific brain regions. In August, Brown scientists reported in the Journal of Neuroscience that two specific frequencies, fast-sigma and delta, that operated in the supplementary motor area of the brain were directly associated with learning a finger-tapping task akin to typing or playing the piano.

The new results show something similar with a visual task in which 15 volunteers were trained to spot a hidden texture amid an obscuring pattern of lines. It's a bit like an abstracted game of "Where's Waldo" but such training is not merely an academic exercise, said Takeo Watanabe, professor of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences at Brown.

"Perceptual learning in general has been found to improve the visual ability of patients who have some decline of function due to aging," Watanabe said.

In this case the researchers, led by graduate student Ji Won Bang, devised an experiment to see how sleep may help such training take hold. They measured the brainwaves of the participants during sleep before and the training, and they measured the volunteers' performance on the task before and after.

The researchers saw significant increases in sigma brainwave power after sleep compared to before in the visual cortical area in the occipital lobe of the volunteers' brains.

To ensure they were measuring activity rela
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Contact: David Orenstein
david_orenstein@brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
Source:Eurekalert  

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