Wonders of the Human Mind and Body

What Really Goes On in the Brain of a Sleeping Baby?

Did you ever wonder why babies sleep so much? One reason has to do with the many things babies must learn in their first days on earth.

Researchers in the Planck Institute deiced to check how babies 6 to 8 months old learn to identify the names of items around them. The researchers showed the babies invented items of molded plastic and gave each creation a made up name. One plastic shape they called “buffel” or ‘”zusser”. Each one was a different shape. They then showed the children many different colors of the same shape called “buffel” then the other shape in many colors they called “zusser”  The researcher say the babies learned to identify a cat or a spoon even though each cat and spoon looked different from one another.

Why did the researchers pick random invented shapes and names? The researchers want to ascertain the babies were leaning new things and not relying on what they already learned. It seems that the new learning takes place while asleep. At first the babies did learn the new shapes and didn’t make any ties between similar shapes. The babies reacted to each “buffel” of a different color as if it was a new shape altogether. But when the babies went to sleep and got up after their good nap, they saw different color “buffels” and already reacted to them as a familiar shape though they were all different colors. They established the relationship of all the “buffels” being the same despite each one having a different color. The sleep helped them digest and process the information they were exposed to before their nap to be used later on when needed.

“Our results show that children store the meaning of words in their long term memory far earlier than we previously thought,” say the researchers. “Only during their nap, the baby’s brain disconnects from the outside world and sifts through the information it amassed and keeps the relevant connections. Early language and cognitive abilities can develop only through interaction with the outside world and its investigation when awake and during sleep the mind organizes the information.”

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