The Effect of Slow-Wave Sleep on Pattern Recognition and the Formation of False Composite Memories




Hamm, Sarah Catherine

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A necessary component of life, sleep offers many benefits, including the restoration of mental and biological processes as well as the consolidation of memories. Memory consolidation is the process between encoding and retrieval where new memories are integrated into an existing knowledge structure and made resilient to interference from older memories. Previous evidence suggests that such integration could also result in alterations to the representations of newly encoded memories, leading to the formation of false memories. In this study, we aimed to evaluate a new form of sleep-dependent false memory, namely, how the presentation of two successive events affects their likelihood to be combined and result in the formation of a false composite memory following sleep (e.g., presenting the words car and pet, leading to the formation of a memory for the composite word carpet). We examined participants' ability to distinguish false composite memories from real memories based on confidence measurements, either after an afternoon nap or a comparable time awake. Results largely confirmed our hypotheses and indicated that participants who slept were more likely to falsely recall having previously seen a composite word. Particularly, consistent with the idea that experiences encountered during wake are replayed during a sleep stage known as slow-wave sleep (SWS), false memories were more likely to be reported for words presented in the regular, forward direction, with the effect correlated to the time spent in SWS. Unexpectedly, however, there were also some indications of false composite memories for words presented in the backward direction. We discuss these results in the context of theoretical models of SWS function.


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Cognition, Memory, Sleep, Slow-Wave Sleep, SWS, Temporal