Generalization of word meanings during infant sleep

Manuela Friedrich*, Ines Wilhelm, Jan Born, Angela D. Friederici

*Corresponding author for this work
99 Citations (Scopus)


Sleep consolidates memory and promotes generalization in adults, but it is still unknown to what extent the rapidly growing infant memory benefits from sleep. Here we show that during sleep the infant brain reorganizes recent memories and creates semantic knowledge from individual episodic experiences. Infants aged between 9 and 16 months were given the opportunity to encode both objects as specific word meanings and categories as general word meanings. Event-related potentials indicate that, initially, infants acquire only the specific but not the general word meanings. About 1.5 h later, infants who napped during the retention period, but not infants who stayed awake, remember the specific word meanings and, moreover, successfully generalize words to novel category exemplars. Independently of age, the semantic generalization effect is correlated with sleep spindle activity during the nap, suggesting that sleep spindles are involved in infant sleep-dependent brain plasticity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6004
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 29.01.2015


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