Child in Bed

A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University and published in a recent edition of the journal Science has suggested that sleep can help in reducing prejudices over race and religion.

The researchers at Northwestern University found that both conscious and unconscious biases could be ‘unlearned’ with the help of ‘counter-stereotype training’.

In this method, patients are exposed to typical sounds that are followed by a short period of sleep. Afterwards, what they recall is found to be influenced if the learning-related sounds are also played during sleep.

Ken Paller, senior author of the study and professor of psychology at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, said, “We call this Targeted Memory Reactivation, because the sounds played during sleep could produce relatively better memory for information cued during sleep compared to information not cued during sleep”.

He mentioned they used this procedure to selectively improve spatial memory, such as learning the locations of a set of objects, and skill memory, like learning to play a melody on a keyboard.

A team led by Xiaoqing Hu, a Ph. D student at Northwestern tested these conditioning exercises to find if they could modify hidden biases during sleep.

In the experiment, forty participants completed two training exercises. One was designed to counter racial bias and the other gender bias.

In the first task, images of females appeared on a computer screen with words that counter gender stereotypes, like math and science terms. For example, women’s faces were paired with words such as ‘science’ and pictures of black individuals were paired with positive words.

Two distinctive sounds were also played during each image word pairing. This was done to create creating a strong association between the sounds and the pairs.

Following the exercise, the participants took a 90-minute nap. The researchers played one of the sounds repeatedly although the participants were in deep sleep.

The results revealed that bias could be reduced through this technique. The researchers were able to persist the effects a week later.

Source: NYC Today



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