Does memory reactivation during sleep support generalization at the cost of memory specifics?

Sarah Witkowski*, Sharon Noh, Victoria Lee, Daniela Grimaldi, Alison R. Preston, Ken A. Paller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Sleep is important for memory, but does it favor consolidation of specific details or extraction of generalized information? Both may occur together when memories are reactivated during sleep, or a loss of certain memory details may facilitate generalization. To examine these issues, we tested memory in participants who viewed landscape paintings by six artists. Paintings were cropped to show only a section of the scene. During a learning phase, each painting section was presented with the artist's name and with a nonverbal sound that had been uniquely associated with that artist. In a test of memory for specifics, participants were shown arrays of six painting sections, all by the same artist. Participants attempted to select the one that was seen in the learning phase. Generalization was tested by asking participants to view new paintings and, for each one, decide which of the six artists created it. After this testing, participants had a 90-minute sleep opportunity with polysomnographic monitoring. When slow-wave sleep was detected, three of the sound cues associated with the artists were repeatedly presented without waking the participants. After sleep, participants were again tested for memory specifics and generalization. Memory reactivation during sleep due to the sound cues led to a relative decline in accuracy on the specifics test, which could indicate the transition to a loss of detail that facilitates generalization, particularly details such as the borders. Generalization performance showed very little change after sleep and was unaffected by the sound cues. Although results tentatively implicate sleep in memory transformation, further research is needed to examine memory change across longer time periods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107442
JournalNeurobiology of Learning and Memory
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Generalization
  • Memory consolidation
  • Memory specificity
  • Sleep
  • Targeted memory reactivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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