implicit learning

How sleeping helps us learn

Most scientists believe that sleep plays an important role in memory. Getting a good night’s sleep after learning something new seems to help you remember it later, whether it is a new motor skill (like a series of repetitive movements) or a new cognitive skill (like memorizing a poem). The way the brain processes and stores these two types of learning (implicit or explicit) is important to understanding how our brains work with implications for learning, education, and the treatment of diseases involving memory loss.

Knowing that sleep plays a role in all of this is one thing. Understanding exactly how this happens in the brain is another. New research from Edwin Robertson at the University of Glasgow and Jocelyn Breton at the University of California, Berkeley helps clarify the role sleep plays in these two different types of learning.

Participants in the study were asked to play a game like the electronic memory game Simon. They had to push a button on a keyboard that corresponded to one of 4 possible positions of a circle on their screen. All participants received the same 12-item long repeating sequence. In the first group (the explicit learning group), the participants were told that they should try to learn the sequence and were given clues to when the sequence would begin again. In the second group (the implicit learning group) the participants were simply told to push the keys correctly as quickly as possible.

The researchers then used a technique called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) that allows them to temporarily turn off specific neural circuits in the brain to test the role of two circuits in storing the sequence in the brain. After a night of sleep, the participants were then tested to recall as much of the sequence as possible. The researchers found that two independent brain circuits mediate the improvement in explicit and implicit learning that typically occurs with sleep. When the participants learned a skill through the repetitive motion alone, the memory was learned through a circuit in the inferior parietal lobe. When they learned by consciously trying to remember the sequences, the learning was stored through a different circuit in the primary motor cortex. This suggests that awareness of learning, even the same sequence, can alter the circuit supporting learning and subsequent memory enhancement over sleep. Overall, the same memory enhancement over a night of sleep can be achieved through different circuits.

This work was published this week in Nature Human Behaviour.
The Guardian view on computers and language: reproducing bias | Editorial | Opinion | The Guardian

“Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions,” wrote David Hume. Language, our instrument of reason, is saturated with value judgments. So what happens when computers – apparently the embodiment of pure mathematical rationality – start to use human language? They reproduce the traces of our passions, of course.

We Can Have Our Cake

(or, Autism as a Neurotype, Disability, and Disorder)

Recently I have seen a lot of conversation about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and whether it is a disorder, or a neurotype. The conversation usually starts with one autistic declaring that autism is not a disorder, and usually escalates when an allistic accuses them of not being a real autistic. Or it starts with, it would not be a disability if society accommodates us. And sometimes, it is a disability but not a disorder.

We’ve all had this conversation, or at least seen it.

Of course, it is a neurotype and a disability. That is the point of a diagnosis; to find what is different, to create what we sociologists call an outgroup. Consider, however, that this does not exclude autism being a disorder.

ASD is primarily a social-communication disorder; it describes a group of people in which there are difficulties with certain types of social interaction, including but not limited to delays or deficits social and emotional reciprocity, language, implicit communication, subtext, and more.

The thing is, no matter how much accommodation we receive, no matter how much and how well we cope, we will always be at a disadvantage in this regard. Society could be 100% accessible to us, but the fact that we must cope at all by making use of accommodations – even if society grants them whole cloth – will set us apart.


Because at the end of the day, humans have biological wiring to recognize patterns – it is what the brain does – and allistic people follow biologically driven patterns of all the things that make us disabled. There are patterns to emotional and social reciprocity; there are patterns to the subtext, to the language. Allistics learn these implicit patterns naturally because their wiring dictates it.

“Ah-ha!” you say, “Aren’t autistics wired for patterns?”

Well, yes. But not in the same way, that is the point. When I watch autistics interact in social groups with other autistics, removed from the context of allistic social standards, I don’t see many, if any of the social standards. It does not matter if the communication does not involve emotional or social reciprocity because that is the expectation. Our pattern recognition works just fine, there is just a predisposition to recognize different patterns naturally.

And yes, this supports the idea that we are being pathologized based on an arbitrary social construct. Yes, it supports the idea that society labels us disabled based on social standards that should not apply to us. Absolutely, these things are true, and I feel that allistic society needs to correct these issues.

But even if they do correct these issues, my brain will still be different, my brain will still see difference, and even if I am perfectly acceptable to society standards, I will still need help interacting with society. My brain is, and always will have more to overcome because the clear majority of the world simply does not even perceive the world the same way I do, and that disadvantages me.

Equity is a laudable goal, but it does not change the biological basis that affects how I see and interact with the world. People will always have to go out of their way – even when socially expected – or I will always have to go out of my way to achieve the same social accomplishments.

Think of it this way: as crippled person, I cannot run up the stairs and usually cannot walk up or down stairs. That is a feature of my biology. My body just works that way. Equity means that in an emergency, someone will show up to escort me down the stairs for my safety, or even carry me.

But an able-bodied person can also take the stairs on their own. In a fire, they do not have to have someone carry them down the stairs. In an emergency, they can run down the stairs to escape danger. I must either wait for someone to rescue me, or I must go very slow and very carefully, putting me at greater risk. There simply is no way around this.

It is the same thing with me and social situations. No matter how slow or careful (no matter how accommodating) people are with regards to my social disability, it does not change that I will always have the equivalent of being socially crippled.

What about the stigma? I do believe that there is more stigma attached to the word “disorder” than there is disability. However, I do not believe that changing the name of autism spectrum disorder to autism spectrum condition, or autism spectrum neurology, or any other number of things will lessen that stigma.

The stigma does not exist because of the word we use; the word is stigmatizing because it is the word society uses for us. Call it autism spectrum peanut butter cookies, and peanut butter cookie will become the stigmatizing phrase; society will use peanut butter as an insult because of the association with us.

As a sociologist, I love the idea of changing the prevailing view of ASD to be less stigmatizing, and I believe we can do that. I do not, however, believe that doing so should come at the expense of recognizing disability.

The good news is that we do not have to. It is possible to reduce the stigma with a primary focus on acceptance and secondary focus on awareness of realistic understandings of autism, and it is possible to do it without erasing the disability that is writ in our biology.

We can have our cake and eat it, too.

This is too long for the ask–I’d rather not have my name attached to this post if you share it as I don’t tell everyone I am an aspie but this issue is keeping me awake so I thought I’d ask:

As a kid I was traumatized by AWANA. It’s this weekly activity for Christian kids that seems to have been a good experience for everyone but me. To this day I get hot and nauseous thinking about it, which is a problem because a lot of my friends have kids going into it now.

I was traumatized because I was a good little girl who followed rules and instructions, and was suddenly thrown into rooms full of screaming children who wouldn’t sit still, wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t obey, and weren’t disciplined for it in the slightest (like a time out, or “you don’t get a cookie becausd you threw it at Jenny”). I would hide in corners and cover my ears and rock until someone pulled me gently by the arm out to “participate.”




Then I would start wailing because I couldn’t “participate” because kids were shouting over me and I couldn’t recite my memory verses or follow the activities and I wasn’t allowed to hide. At first they’d try to move me to quieter groups but they always got rowdy and eventually the adults just blamed everything on me as my own problem.

When we played games outside it was worse. No one would follow the rules. No one would even try. It was so damn simple but they’d act out and then when I would get so frustrated I would yell and refuse to “play” I was the one who was causing trouble.

Every week my parents were told how bad I was and nothing I said made a difference, if I was given a chance to speak over the yelling. Which was .0000001% of the time. I got yelled at, a few times I got spanked. One time I got sent to bed without eating. While they relented and I was allowed a bowl of cereal, I didn’t speak for a day or look at anyone for a week. I lost all eye contact ability during that time. I was alone, I felt betrayed, and to this day I cannot eat spaghetti because Mum always made it on Awana nights.

Twenty years later.

Now I can forgive my parents and the adults for thinking I was a brat because they were ignorant, and I had no help learning proper behavior or communication. I only discovered I was an aspie 5 years ago. So I get that they didn’t know how to handle me. I WAS alone. I had to figure EVERYTHING out myself.

But what I STILL don’t understand, what I want to know is:

Those kids were the bad ones. I wanted to play, to learn, to do the crafts, like we were supposed to. They were the ones that ruined it for everyone.

So why were they not reported to their parents? what. made. my. bad. behavior. more. bad. than. theirs?

Gosh, I am so sorry you had to experience this. It sucks, so, so, much, and I relate so, so, much to it.

I have a good idea what the answer to your question is, but I don’t know that it will bring you any comfort.

If you like (genuine offer!), I could get into the psychology and sociology of it all, and talk about typical psychosocial development and implicit learning, but really it is all contextual, varies culture to culture, and is largely socially constructed.

When it comes right down to it there is no real reason for the distinction between your behavior and their behavior other than their behavior was expected, yours was not. Theirs was normal to the adults, and yours was, well, different.

In another culture, with different norms, your behavior in following the rules would have been the expected and acceptable behavior and theirs would have been the atypical or even deviant behavior.

I wish I had a better answer for you.
Gender and racial bias can be 'unlearnt' during sleep, new study suggests
Playing auditory cues during sleep partially undid biases, raising possibility of using the technique to make permanent behavioural changes
By Hannah Devlin

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the overlords use “sleep teaching” to condition children to submit to their sinister moral values. Now scientists have found a more noble purpose for the technique in a study that suggests deep-rooted biases about race and gender could be “unlearnt” during a short nap.

The findings appear to confirm the idea that sleeping provides a unique window for accessing and altering fundamental beliefs – even prejudices that we don’t know we have.

Simply playing auditory cues while people slept partially undid racial and gender bias, the study found, and the effects were still evident at least a week later.

Xiaoqing Hu, who led the study at Northwestern University, said the strength of the results were surprising. “The usual expectation is that a brief, one-time intervention is not strong enough to have a lasting influence,” he said.

Continue Reading.