How Sleep Can Help Us Get Rid Of Deep-Rooted Stereotypes

implicit bias study

Scientists have long known that sleep boosts the brain, helping us consolidate memories and learn new things.

Now, a provocative new study shows it may even have the power to help us reverse deeply rooted stereotypes against women and African-Americans — a finding which has important implications given the state of race relations in America, and the gender gap in math and science.

“These biases are well-learned,” Dr. Xiaoqing Hu, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin and lead author of the study, told The Guardian. “They can operate efficiently even when we have the good intention to avoid such biases. Moreover, we are often not aware of their influences on our behavior.”

Disturbing biases measured. For the study, the researchers recruited 40 white men and women between the ages of 18 and 30 and had them complete a task called the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which measured their baseline gender and racial biases.

Then, the participants completed two “counter-stereotype trainings,” which involved looking at different faces — black and white, male and female — paired with words on a computer screen (see diagram).

The participants were asked to press a button labeled “correct” when female faces appeared next to science and math words, and when black faces were paired with positive words like “cheer, smile, or honor.”

When the participants identified these pairings quickly and accurately, two specific sounds were played — one sound for the “women-science” pairing, and one for the “black-good” pairing.

Just a few zzz’s. After the training, the participants took a 90-minute-long nap. Once they fell into a deep sleep, the researchers played one of the two sounds repeatedly. When the participants woke up, they took the IAT again.

What happened? Participants’ biases fell by more —> Read More