Targeted Memory Reactivation During Sleep Improves Next-Day Problem Solving

Kristin E.G. Sanders*, Samuel Osburn, Ken A. Paller, Mark Beeman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Many people have claimed that sleep has helped them solve a difficult problem, but empirical support for this assertion remains tentative. The current experiment tested whether manipulating information processing during sleep impacts problem incubation and solving. In memory studies, delivering learning-associated sound cues during sleep can reactivate memories. We therefore predicted that reactivating previously unsolved problems could help people solve them. In the evening, we presented 57 participants with puzzles, each arbitrarily associated with a different sound. While participants slept overnight, half of the sounds associated with the puzzles they had not solved were surreptitiously presented. The next morning, participants solved 31.7% of cued puzzles, compared with 20.5% of uncued puzzles (a 55% improvement). Moreover, cued-puzzle solving correlated with cued-puzzle memory. Overall, these results demonstrate that cuing puzzle information during sleep can facilitate solving, thus supporting sleep’s role in problem incubation and establishing a new technique to advance understanding of problem solving and sleep cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1616-1624
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Science
Volume30
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

Keywords

  • creative cognition
  • incubation
  • problem solving
  • restructuring
  • sleep
  • targeted memory reactivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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