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Sleep Deprivation Might Give You False Memories!


Image credit: The Sleep and Learning Lab in Michigan State University’s Department of Psychology studies the relationship between sleep and learning and memory / G.L. Kohuth.

According to the research result recently released in Psychological Science, lack of sleep not only affects your focus and productivity, but hurts your memory as well.

It is widely accepted that sleeping for seven to eight hours every night is goof enough for most people. There is obvious evidence showing that the lack of sleep could hurt one’s cognitive function, but it is little known about what the role sleep deprivation plays in the formation of false memories.

As Steven Frenda from University of California, Irvine, said in a news release, he surprisingly found that only few empirical studies had linked sleep deprivation with memory distortion in an eyewitness context, because such studies was mainly focused on sleep deprived people’s ability to accurately remember lists of words instead of real people and places as well as events.

In order to examine the impact of insufficient sleep on memory, Frenda and his colleagues asked the groups of college students to stay awake for 24 hours for assessment of their possible memory of event details.

During the experiment, 104 volunteers were assigned into one of four groups late one evening. Two groups were presented with some photos illustrating a crime scene– a man stealing a wallet. After that, one of those groups was required to go to bed immediately, while the other group was kept awake throughout the night in the lab. At the same time, the remaining two groups did it in reverse: One slept as the other stayed awake, but they were asked to view the same crime photos in the morning.

At the next stage of the experiment, the volunteers read narratives including the statements which were actually contrary to what the photos demonstrated. A description might, for instance, say that the thief got the stolen wallet into his pants pocket — but the photos showed him putting it in his jacket.

As for the students who did not sleep at all during the experiment, when they viewed the photos and read accounts of the crime, they were more likely to give the false details from the narrative as having happened in the crime photos. However, for the students who viewed the photos before staying up all night, they were no more susceptible to false memories than those who had been permitted to sleep.

As Kimberly Fenn from Michigan State University, who was the   study coauthor said, they discovered that memory distortion was amazingly greater after sleep deprivation. As a result, the less sleep people got, the greater such distortion was.

On the basis of data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insufficient sleep is now becoming a common public health epidemic, which is closely associated with industrial accidents, medical errors and vehicle crashes as well as chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

From the findings of Frenda and his colleagues, it could easily seen that sleep deprivation could make you remember fake details as actually having happened, thus distorting your memories and making you as a bad eyewitness.

Source: APS