In a new study published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers have demonstrated that it may actually be possible for people to learn simple information while sleeping. In the study, participants wore masks while sleeping, and different scents were sprayed into these masks. When the subjects were sprayed with a pleasant scent, like perfume or shampoo, they took deeper breaths. Conversely, if the scent was foul, they breathed shallowly. The researchers also played tones while spraying the various scents. Much like Pavlov’s famous experiment, the subjects eventually took deep or shallow breaths depending on the tone that was played, regardless of whether or not it was paired with a scent.
Even after the test participants woke up, they matched their breaths to the tones that were played – and they had no recollection of smelling or hearing anything while asleep. As this is the first experiment demonstrating that people can actually learn while sleeping, the researchers are now looking for practical ways to apply their findings.
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