Sleep's role in memory consolidation is widely acknowledged, but its role in weakening memories is still debated. Memory weakening is evolutionary beneficial and makes an integral contribution to cognition. We sought evidence on whether sleep-based memory reactivation can facilitate memory suppression. Participants learned pairs of associable words (e.g., DIET–CREAM) and were then exposed to hint words (e.g., DIET) and instructed to either recall (“think”) or suppress (“no-think”) the corresponding target words (e.g., CREAM). As expected, suppression impaired retention when tested immediately after a 90-min nap. To test if reactivation could selectively enhance memory suppression during sleep, we unobtrusively presented one of two sounds conveying suppression instructions during sleep, followed by hint words. Results showed that targeted memory reactivation did not enhance suppression-induced forgetting. Although not predicted, post-hoc analyses revealed that sleep cues strengthened memory, but only for suppressed pairs that were weakly encoded before sleep. The results leave open the question of whether memory suppression can be augmented during sleep, but suggest strategies for future studies manipulating memory suppression during sleep. Additionally, our findings support the notion that sleep reactivation is particularly beneficial for weakly encoded information, which may be prioritized for consolidation.
Although we experience thousands of distinct events on a daily basis, relatively few are committed to memory. The human capacity to intentionally control which events will be remembered has been demonstrated using learning procedures with instructions to purposely avoid committing specific items to memory. In this study, we used a variant of the item-based directed-forgetting procedure and instructed participants to memorize the location of some images but not others on a grid. These instructions were conveyed using a set of auditory cues. Then, during an afternoon nap, we unobtrusively presented a cue that was used to instruct participant to avoid committing the locations of some images to memory. After sleep, memory was worse for to-be-forgotten image locations associated with the presented sound relative to those associated with a sound that was not presented during sleep. We conclude that memory processing during sleep can serve not only to secure memory storage but also to weaken it. Given that intentional suppression may be used to weaken unpleasant memories, such sleep-based strategies may help accelerate treatments for memory-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
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- Scientific Reports
- Nature Publishing Group
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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