Unlearning implicit social biases during sleep

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Science  29 May 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6238, pp. 1013-1015
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa3841

Sleep on it: Consolidating implicit learning

A good night's sleep is one of the best ways to fix recently learned information into long-lasting memory. Recent evidence suggests that recent memories are reactivated during sleep and woven into existing representations of stored information. Hu et al. now demonstrate that triggering memory consolidation during sleep can help set into place recently learned anti-bias training (see the Perspective by Feld and Born). Changes in people's stereotypical attitudes toward race and gender were maintained for up to 1 week after training.

Science, this issue p. 1013; see also p. 971


Although people may endorse egalitarianism and tolerance, social biases can remain operative and drive harmful actions in an unconscious manner. Here, we investigated training to reduce implicit racial and gender bias. Forty participants processed counterstereotype information paired with one sound for each type of bias. Biases were reduced immediately after training. During subsequent slow-wave sleep, one sound was unobtrusively presented to each participant, repeatedly, to reactivate one type of training. Corresponding bias reductions were fortified in comparison with the social bias not externally reactivated during sleep. This advantage remained 1 week later, the magnitude of which was associated with time in slow-wave and rapid-eye-movement sleep after training. We conclude that memory reactivation during sleep enhances counterstereotype training and that maintaining a bias reduction is sleep-dependent.

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