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Behav Brain Res. 2010 Apr 2;208(2):425-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2009.12.021. Epub 2009 Dec 23.

Sleep enhances false memories depending on general memory performance.

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Department of Neuroendocrinology, University of Luebeck, Luebeck, Germany.


Memory is subject to dynamic changes, sometimes giving rise to the formation of false memories due to biased processes of consolidation or retrieval. Sleep is known to benefit memory consolidation through an active reorganization of representations whereas acute sleep deprivation impairs retrieval functions. Here, we investigated whether sleep after learning and sleep deprivation at retrieval enhance the generation of false memories in a free recall test. According to the Deese, Roediger, McDermott (DRM) false memory paradigm, subjects learned lists of semantically associated words (e.g., "night", "dark", "coal", etc.), lacking the strongest common associate or theme word (here: "black"). Free recall was tested after 9h following a night of sleep, a night of wakefulness (sleep deprivation) or daytime wakefulness. Compared with memory performance after a retention period of daytime wakefulness, both post-learning nocturnal sleep as well as acute sleep deprivation at retrieval significantly enhanced false recall of theme words. However, these effects were only observed in subjects with low general memory performance. These data point to two different ways in which sleep affects false memory generation through semantic generalization: one acts during consolidation on the memory trace per se, presumably by active reorganization of the trace in the post-learning sleep period. The other is related to the recovery function of sleep and affects cognitive control processes of retrieval. Both effects are unmasked when the material is relatively weakly encoded.

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