That Face Looks Familiar

Does Sleep Really Influence Face Recognition Memory?
Bhavin R. Sheth, Ngan Nguyen, Davit Janvelyan
PLoS ONE 4(5): e5496. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005496

Mounting evidence implicates sleep in the consolidation of various kinds of memories. We investigated the effect of sleep on memory for face identity, a declarative form of memory that is indispensable for nearly all social interaction. In the acquisition phase, observers viewed faces that they were required to remember over a variable retention period (0–36 hours). In the test phase, observers viewed intermixed old and new faces and judged seeing each before. Participants were classified according to acquisition and test times into seven groups. Memory strength (d′) and response bias (c) were evaluated. Substantial time spent awake (12 hours or more) during the retention period impaired face recognition memory evaluated at test, whereas sleep per se during the retention period did little to enhance the memory. Wakefulness during retention also led to a tightening of the decision criterion. Our findings suggest that sleep passively and transiently shelters face recognition memory from waking interference (exposure) but does not actively aid in its long-term consolidation.

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