Sound Asleep?

Shh, don’t wake the baby! She’s busy learning…

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

“Mama, dada, MORE!!”… Babies pick up words so quickly! When kids memorize words, specific regions of the brain go into hyper-drive. But where does this speed-learning take place in BABIES’ brains??

Elliott Johnson and a team from UC Davis tried to map this out. 

First, researchers introduced the names of puppets to toddlers. They then tested the tots’ recall after twenty minutes and a week after the learning session. Lastly, the team placed the sleeping tykes into an MRI machine, then played back the puppet names and some new words.

What did they see? Two learning and memory regions – the hippocampus and the anterior medial temporal lobe – lit up in response to the familiar names! Both regions are positively related to the memory immediately after learning. But the hippocampus is NOT associated with the recalls after a week. 

This mirrors what we see in adults – the hippocampus is related to recalling recent memories! 

Maybe this is how I’ll remember my shopping list! I’m sure hand puppets can help.

Reference: Johnson, E. G., Mooney, L., Graf Estes, K., Nordahl, C. W., & Ghetti, S. (2021). Activation for newly learned words in left medial-temporal lobe during toddlers’ sleep is associated with memory for words. Current Biology. Published.