Deliens (2013): REM sleep, emotional memory unbinding

Rapid eye movement sleep does not seem to unbind memories from their emotional context


Sleep unbinds memories from their emotional learning context, protecting
them from emotional interference due to a change of mood between
learning and recall. According to the ‘sleep to forget and sleep to
remember’ model, emotional unbinding takes place during rapid eye
movement sleep. To test this hypothesis, we investigated emotional
contextual interference effects after early versus late post-learning sleep
periods, in which slow wave and rapid eye movement sleep, respectively,
predominate. Participants learned a list of neutral word pairs after
induction of a happy or a sad mood, then slept immediately afterwards for
3 h of early or late sleep under polysomnographic recording, in a withinsubject
counterbalanced design. They slept for 3 h before learning in the
late sleep condition. Polysomnographic data confirmed more rapid eye
movement sleep in the late than in the early sleep condition. After
awakening, half the list was recalled after induction of a similar mood than
during the encoding session (non-interference condition), and the other
half of the list was recalled after induction of a different mood (interference
condition). The results disclosed an emotional interference effect on recall
both in the early and late sleep conditions, which does not corroborate the
hypothesis of a rapid eye movement sleep-related protection of recent
memories from emotional contextual interference. Alternatively, the
contextual demodulation process initiated during the first post-learning
night might need several consecutive nights of sleep to be achieved.


About Tore Nielsen

Researcher at University of Montreal and Director of Dream & Nightmare Laboratory
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