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New babies ‘sponge up data’ while asleep – study

21-05-2010

A study of newborn babies has found that they have the ability to learn while asleep. The test, jointly carried out by researchers at the University of Florida and Columbia University, was centred around playing beeps to sleeping babies and blowing a small puff of air into their eyes, which causes an instinctive reaction of scrunching up their eyelids. Throughout the test, the beeps continued but the puffs of air were stopped after twenty minutes, yet the babies continued to scrunch their eyelids, showing that they had quickly learned to associate the beep to the feeling of air being blown, despite it all happening while they were asleep.

Twenty-six babies, aged between 10 and 73 hours old, were involved in the study, underlining the fact that the findings only currently relate to newborns.

The investigation also monitored activity in the babies prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with memory, and found increased responses during the test process, clearly indicating that memories were being formed. It is believed that the ability to take on new information whilst asleep is part of a baby’s rapid development to the new environment.

“They’re better at sponging up data than we thought,” said Dana Byrd from the University of Florida. “Now we know that babies can learn even while they sleep.”

The same experiment has proven unsuccessful when trialled on adults, as the puff of air wakes them up.

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