For many years there has been the idea that people are able to learn when they are asleep. There are apocryphal stories, urban legends, of people who have fallen asleep listening to some educational recording only to wake up later having memorised it. These examples have never been replicated in a laboratory setting, making them seem fairly dubious at best, at least until now.
Researchers played a number of tones to participants in a study as they slept. After playing each tone, they then presented both pleasant and unpleasant odours to the sleeping participants. The still-sleeping study participants reacted to the odours by either taking in a deeper breath for a pleasant smell, or taking a shallow breath for an unpleasant smell.
As the night went on, the researchers tried only playing the tones, without presenting the odours afterward, for the sleeping study participants, . Even without odour, the sleeping participants still sniffed - either shallow breaths if it was after a tone which had been linked with the unpleasant smell, or a deeper breath if it was a tone which had been linked with a pleasant smell.
While it is hardly learning Spanish in a night, this shows that the brain is able to learn while it is asleep, and could herald an age of learning that teenagers could really appreciate!
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