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Newborn infants learn while asleep; study may lead to later disability tests
Date:5/17/2010

ns sleep so much of the time, it is important that they not only take in information but use the information in such a way to respond appropriately."

Not only did the newborns show they can learn to give this reflex in response to the simple tone, but they gave the response at the right time, she said.

Learned eyelid movement reflects the normal functioning of the circuitry in the cerebellum, a neural structure at the base of the brain. This study's method potentially offers a unique non-invasive tool for early identification of infants with atypical cerebellar structure, who are potentially at risk for a range of developmental disorders, including autism and dyslexia, she said.

The capacity of infants to learn during sleep contrasts with some researchers' stance that learning new material does not take place in sleeping adults, Byrd said.

The immature nature of sleep patterns in infants could help explain why, she said.

"Newborn infants' sleep patterns are quite different than those of older children or adults in that they show more active sleep where heart and breathing rates are very changeable," she said. "It may be this sleep state is more amenable to experiencing the world in a way that facilitates learning."

Another factor is that infants' brains have greater neural plasticity, which is the ability for the neural connections to be changed, Byrd said. "Newborns may be very adaptive to learning in general simply because their brains have increased plasticity, increased propensity to be changed by experience," she said.


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Contact: Dana Byrd
byrd@ufl.edu
352-339-5155
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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