Study Suggests Newborns Learn While Asleep

NEW YORK, May 17 (UPI) — A U.S. study suggests newborn infants are capable of a simple form of learning while they are sleeping.

Researchers led by William Fifter at Columbia University said their finding might one day lead to a test that can identify infants at risk for developmental disorders that do not become apparent until later in childhood.

The scientists recorded each sleeping infant’s electrical brain wave activity and used a video camera to record facial expressions.

They then played a tone, while a machine blew a faint puff of air at each sleeping infant’s eyelids. In response to the air puff, the infants reflexively squeezed their closed lids tighter.

That was repeated nine times. For the 10th time, however, the researchers played the tone without the air puff. That sequence was repeated over and over again.

After roughly 20 minutes, most of the infants (24 out of 26) would scrunch their faces in response to the tone that was not accompanied by the air puff. Moreover, the scientists said they detected changes in brain wave activity occurring simultaneously with the tone, which the researchers interpret as further evidence the infants had learned to associate the tone with the air puff.

“The current experiment is the first to demonstrate newborn infants are capable of learning about relationships between stimuli while asleep,” the researchers said.

The study appears in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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