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Sleep promotes the extraction of grammatical rules

Nieuwenhuis, I. L., Folia, V., Forkstam, C., Jensen, O., & Petersson, K. M. (2013). Sleep promotes the extraction of grammatical rules. PLoS One, 8(6): e65046. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065046.
Grammar acquisition is a high level cognitive function that requires the extraction of complex rules. While it has been proposed that offline time might benefit this type of rule extraction, this remains to be tested. Here, we addressed this question using an artificial grammar learning paradigm. During a short-term memory cover task, eighty-one human participants were exposed to letter sequences generated according to an unknown artificial grammar. Following a time delay of 15 min, 12 h (wake or sleep) or 24 h, participants classified novel test sequences as Grammatical or Non-Grammatical. Previous behavioral and functional neuroimaging work has shown that classification can be guided by two distinct underlying processes: (1) the holistic abstraction of the underlying grammar rules and (2) the detection of sequence chunks that appear at varying frequencies during exposure. Here, we show that classification performance improved after sleep. Moreover, this improvement was due to an enhancement of rule abstraction, while the effect of chunk frequency was unaltered by sleep. These findings suggest that sleep plays a critical role in extracting complex structure from separate but related items during integrative memory processing. Our findings stress the importance of alternating periods of learning with sleep in settings in which complex information must be acquired.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.

 

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