Nap against racism: According to the researchers, sleep can break down prejudices

Nap against racism: According to the researchers, sleep can break down prejudices

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Study: Sexist and racist prejudices can be reduced by special training during sleep

Can people with racist or sexist prejudices become "good people" in their sleep? According to a US study, certain stereotypes can at least be reduced if you undergo special training and target the subconscious during sleep.

Study participants were first tested for their sexist and racist advantages
Researchers have already found that certain memories can be reactivated and strengthened during sleep. For example, a learning unit was linked to a sound or smell and this stimulus was reapplied to the test subjects during sleep. Later, what was learned could be accessed better. Similar investigations were carried out, among other things, for facts and emotions.

Xiaoqing Hu from Northwestern University in Evanston and his team wanted to find out whether this could change long-standing thinking patterns. In doing so, they focused on racist and sexist prejudices. For their study, the researchers selected 40 white men and women who initially completed a test that showed how much the test subjects were prone to certain sexist and racist prejudices. Each study participant then went through special training. A portrait of a person should be assigned to a term that contradicted her prejudice. For example, the face of a dark-skinned man should be assigned the term "sunshine" or a woman's face "mathematics". If the subjects correctly assigned image and term, a certain tone sounded depending on whether it was racism or sexism.

"The common expectation is that a short, one-time intervention is not strong enough to have a lasting impact," Hu told the British "Dailymail". “It could therefore be better to do repeated sessions and extensive training. Nevertheless, our results show how learning - including this type of learning - depends on sleep. "

Sexist and racist benefits were reduced during sleep
In the next step, the participants took a 90-minute nap. During the deep sleep phase, the researchers played the subject's racism or sexism tone. Hu and his team then asked the subjects' prejudices again. As it turned out, the stereotypes, the associated sound of which was played during sleep, were significantly softened. The long-term thinking patterns had obviously changed as a result of the training. The change was still measurable a week after the trial.

"Hu and his colleagues show the remarkable potential of targeted memory reactivation during sleep when it comes to changing deep-rooted habits," the news agency "dpa" quotes sleep researcher Jan Born from the University of Tübingen. Born also emphasizes, however, that there are still many uncertainties regarding the neurophysiological and psychological mechanisms of reactivation. For example, it is still open what influence the learning environment has.

In sleep, man has no conscious consciousness
According to the sleep researcher, the risk that previously learned stereotypes will be regained may be much more pronounced. "Sleep is a state in which an individual is without conscious awareness and thus unprotected from suggestions," Born said. Therefore, ethical considerations should also be included in further research.

Hu and his team want “to further develop the reactivation method while sleeping so that people with bad habits such as smoking, selfish behavior or unhealthy eating habits may be able to change their behavior through training in the future”. The researchers published their study results in the scientific journal Science. (ag)

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