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Journal Article

Sleep promotes the extraction of grammatical rules


Folia,  Vasiliki
Cognitive Neurophysiology Research Group, Stockholm Brain Institute, Karolinska Institutet, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Stockholm, Sweden;
Neurobiology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;


Petersson,  Karl Magnus
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;
Neurobiology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Cognitive Neuroscience Research Group, Institute of Biotechnology & Bioengineering, Centre for Molecular and Structural Biomedicine, Universidade do Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, Faro;
Unification, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Nieuwenhuis, I. L., Folia, V., Forkstam, C., Jensen, O., & Petersson, K. M. (2013). Sleep promotes the extraction of grammatical rules. PLoS One, 8(6): e65046. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065046.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-758D-A
Grammar acquisition is a high level cognitive function that requires the extraction of complex rules. While it has been proposed that offline time might benefit this type of rule extraction, this remains to be tested. Here, we addressed this question using an artificial grammar learning paradigm. During a short-term memory cover task, eighty-one human participants were exposed to letter sequences generated according to an unknown artificial grammar. Following a time delay of 15 min, 12 h (wake or sleep) or 24 h, participants classified novel test sequences as Grammatical or Non-Grammatical. Previous behavioral and functional neuroimaging work has shown that classification can be guided by two distinct underlying processes: (1) the holistic abstraction of the underlying grammar rules and (2) the detection of sequence chunks that appear at varying frequencies during exposure. Here, we show that classification performance improved after sleep. Moreover, this improvement was due to an enhancement of rule abstraction, while the effect of chunk frequency was unaltered by sleep. These findings suggest that sleep plays a critical role in extracting complex structure from separate but related items during integrative memory processing. Our findings stress the importance of alternating periods of learning with sleep in settings in which complex information must be acquired.
Funding: This work was supported by grants from the Dutch National Science Foundation (grant numbers NWO 051-04-100), Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (PTDC/PSI-PCO/110734/2009; IBB/CBME, LA, FEDER/POCI 2010), Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and Vetenskapsrådet. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.