Friday, November 6, 2009

Sleep & Observational Learning

Sleep enhances the performance of motor skills that have been learned through physical practice. Can it also improve skills that have been learned through observation?

new study involved 64 healthy people. They were shown a video of a hand performing a finger-tapping task, reports the LA Times.

They were only allowed to watch; they couldn’t practice the movements. EMG monitoring verified the absence of hand muscle movements during observation.

Some participants slept right after the observation period; others slept after a delay of more than 12 hours. Then they were asked to perform the finger-tapping task.

Results show that immediate sleep is necessary for the enhancement of a motor skill through prior observation. There was no performance benefit when sleep occurred more than 12 hours after observation.

Sleeping right after observation improved performance speed by 22 percent; it also reduced the error rate by 42 percent.

The authors conclude that people can transfer observational learning into physical movements without practice. But an “early sleep window” is required to consolidate the procedural memory.

They suggest that this learning method could help athletes or children master new motor skills. It also could help people who have to relearn skills after a stroke or injury.

Image by Bernardo Borghetti

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