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The role of sleep timing in children’s observational learning

Research group Van Someren
Publication year 2015
Published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory
Authors Frank J van Schalkwijk, Jeroen S Benjamins, Filippo Migliorati, Jacqueline A de Nooijer, Eus Van Someren, Tamara van Gog, Y.D. van der Werf

Acquisition of information can be facilitated through different learning strategies, classically associated with either declarative or procedural memory modalities. The consolidation of the acquired information has been positively associated with sleep. In addition, subsequent performance was better when acquisition was quickly followed by sleep, rather than daytime wakefulness. Prior studies with adults have indicated the viability of the alternative learning strategy of observational learning for motor skill acquisition, as well as the importance of sleep and sleep timing. However, relatively little research has been dedicated to studying the importance of sleep for the consolidation of procedural memory in children. Therefore, this study investigated whether children could encode procedural information through observational learning, and whether sleep timing could affect subsequent consolidation and performance. School-aged children aged 9-12years (N=86, 43% male, Mage=10.64years, SD=.85) were trained on a procedural fingertapping task through observation, either in the morning or evening; creating immediate wake and immediate sleep groups, respectively. Performance was evaluated the subsequent evening or morning on either a congruent or incongruent task version. Observation and task execution was conducted using an online interface, allowing for remote participation. Performance of the immediate wake group was lower for a congruent version, expressed by a higher error rate, opposed to an incongruent version; an effect not observed in the immediate sleep group. This finding showed that observational learning did not improve performance in children. Yet, immediate sleep prevented performance reduction on the previously observed task. These results support a benefit of sleep in observational learning in children, but in a way different from that seen in adults, where sleep enhanced performance after learning by observation.

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