The Sephardic Heritage Museum Explores THE LIFE AND ESCAPE of the JEWS OF SYRIA

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WHAT REALLY GOES ON IN THE BRAIN OF A SLEEPING BABY?

By: Maayan Kfir



Did you ever wonder why babies sleep so much? One reason has to do with the many things babies must learn in their first days on earth.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute decided to determine how babies six to eight months old learn to identify the names of items around them. The researchers showed the babies items made out of molded plastic and gave each creation a made up name. One plastic shape they called “buffel” or “zusser.” Each item was a different shape. The researchers then showed the children items which each had a different color, but were the same shape as the original item called “buffel.” Then the researchers showed the babies the other shape in many colors, which they called “zusser.” The researchers reported that the babies learned to identify, say, a cat or a spoon, even though each cat and spoon looked different from one another.

Why did the researchers pick random invented shapes and names? They wanted to ascertain whether the babies were leaning new things, and were not just relying on what they already learned. It seems that the new learning takes place while babies are asleep. At first the babies did learn the new shapes, but did not make any ties between similar shapes. The babies reacted to each “buffel” of a different color as if it was a new item altogether. But when the babies went to sleep and got up after a good nap, they were shown different color “buffels” andalready reacted to them as a familiar shape, even though they were all different colors. The babies established the relationship of all the “buffels” being the same, despite each one having a different color. The sleep helped the babies to digest and process the information they were exposed to before their nap, to be used later on when needed.

“Our results show that children store the meaning of words in their long term memory far earlier than we previously thought,” reported the researchers. “Only duringtheir nap, the baby’s brain disconnects from the outside world and sifts through the information it amassed, and keeps the relevant connections. Early language and cognitive abilities can develop in babies only through their interaction with the outside world and its investigation when they are awake. During sleep the mind organizes the information.”