Study Reveals Basic Mechanisms of New Word Learning in Sleeping 2-3-Year-Olds

A study in California has revealed which part of the brain retains new word memory in sleeping toddlers, and that study is explored in further detail.
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Last updatedLast updated: November 05, 2022
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Researchers at a prestigious medical facility have discovered that certain brain mechanisms relate to certain areas whilst children sleep and absorb words they have recently learned. This information is incredibly important for the progress of understanding when it comes to learning new words in formative years.

Prestigious Medical Facility

One of the reasons the study is so groundbreaking is because it has been completed at the prestigious Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California in Davis. The center focuses on understanding the human mind better, has 21 faculty members Trusted Source Quick facts - Center for Mind and Brain | UC Davis The UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain (CMB) is an interdisciplinary research center dedicated to understanding the human mind and its links to the brain. mindbrain.ucdavis.edu , 5 participating departments; they have published no less than 20 books and had no less than 28 awards so far.

With such a trusted source, the study which is published in the October 19th Current Biology paper is likely to be utilized across the board as trusted evidence in this area of science and development.

Challenging Participants

The study was completed with two-year-old children whom Simona Ghetti, a leading professor of the study, stated were challenging to work with. The children were required to be between 2 and 3 because this is a part of life when we, as humans, naturally enter a unique age in our memory development.

However, as children that age are naturally very unpredictable and unfiltered, this made observing them and asking them to do certain tasks really difficult. Ghetti highlighted that asking 2-3-year-olds to stay still in an MRI scanner is particularly difficult. In addition, the professor said that the noises and darkness of an MRI scanner can be scary for small children. 12.5% of the population Trusted Source Claustrophobia - StatPearls | NCBI A phobia is a fear which causes significant impairment to a person’s ability to live a normal life. An example of life impairment is avoiding the specific object or scenario that is feared. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov are claustrophobic, but they are adults who can understand the fact their phobia is not logical. This isn’t so easy with children who may not respond to reason.

Instead, they used various methods of overcoming this problem, including allowing children to fall asleep in a scanner that was not working, so they felt comfortable with the environment. In a previous study on music and memory, this method had worked well as later activation of the scanner showed a brain response to learned songs previously learned by the children.

Groundbreaking Research Processes

The study this time involved looking at how children aged 2-3 retain new words they have learned within different parts of the brain relating to memory. The professor, Simona Ghetti, and (graduate) student Elliot Johnson made-up words that sounded real but had no real meaning. This would allow them to be sure the children had not coincidentally heard new words from other sources.

The words were used to describe puppets, which appealed to the children, and objects that the children also liked. After a few minutes, the children were tested to see if they remembered the new words.

The children were then tested again around a week later to see if they remembered the names of the objects and the puppets. The toddlers then slept inside an MRI scanner as the scientists played the new words back to them while they remained asleep.

Incredible Research Results

The research performed by the researchers found that both the anterior medial temporal lobe and the hippocampus activated when the learned words were played back to the children while they were in the MRI scanner. The same areas had also shown activity when the children learned the words 7 days before.

This research tells us that the hippocampus is of primary importance when it comes to learning new words during formative years. The same part of the brain was found to be important with learning and memory recall in adults and older children, which shows an overall correlation in terms of word learning.

Additionally, the study highlighted how children are able to retain lots of information when it comes to grasping new words while simultaneously losing information about those words. For example, they may retain the word and remember it, but they don’t necessarily remember what it means or how to use it. The reason for this happening is still unknown, but Ghetti suggests that it could be because the many learning experiences of children that age overlap and so unnecessary details get left behind, and the most important information (according to the brain) is retained.

References

1.
Quick facts - Center for Mind and Brain | UC Davis
The UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain (CMB) is an interdisciplinary research center dedicated to understanding the human mind and its links to the brain.
2.
Claustrophobia - StatPearls | NCBI
A phobia is a fear which causes significant impairment to a person’s ability to live a normal life. An example of life impairment is avoiding the specific object or scenario that is feared.
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