Learning to live with interfering neighbours: the influence of time of learning and level of encoding on word learning

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New vocabulary is consolidated offline, particularly during sleep; however, the parameters that influence consolidation remain unclear. Two experiments investigated effects of exposure level and delay between learning and sleep on adults' consolidation of novel competitors (e.g. BANARA) to existing words (e.g. BANANA). Participants made speeded semantic decisions (i.e. a forced choice: natural versus man-made) to the existing words, with the expectation that novel word learning would inhibit responses due to lexical competition. This competition was observed, particularly when assessed after sleep, for both standard and high exposure levels (10 and 20 exposures per word; Experiment 1). Using a lower exposure level (five exposures; Experiment 2), no post-sleep enhancement of competition was observed, despite evidence of consolidation when explicit knowledge of novel word memory was tested. Thus, when encoding is relatively weak, consolidation-related lexical integration is particularly compromised. There was no evidence that going to bed soon after learning is advantageous for overnight consolidation; however, there was some preliminary suggestion that longer gaps between learning and bed-onset were associated with better explicit memory of novel words one week later, but only at higher levels of exposure. These findings suggest that while lexical integration can occur overnight, weaker lexical traces may not be able to access overnight integration processes in the sleeping brain. Furthermore, the finding that longer-term explicit memory of stronger (but not weaker) traces benefit from periods of wake following learning deserves examination in future research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181842
Number of pages22
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 15 Mar 2019

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