Sleep deprivation has been associated with risk for the development of many diseases and a recent study has now linked sleep deprivation to higher risk for creating false memories. The mind does not work right without a good night’s sleep, according to a continuously developing body of literature on the importance of sleep.
Previous studies on sleep deprivation have shown an association with various types of impaired cognitive functions and memory distortion regarding remembering things like lists of words. This study, however, showed memory distortion regarding real life events that involve people.
The experiment set up in the study was to test participants on their ability to recall information from crime photos. First, the subjects read narratives of eyewitness statements that were given in regard to a crime. The eyewitness statements provided different data compared to the information in the crime photos, which were subsequently shown to the participants in the study. For example, a narrative might say that the thief put the stolen wallet in the pocket of his pants, but the photo would show the wallet was actually put in his jacket. The job of the subject was to accurately describe what was in the crime photo. One group of subjects was allowed to sleep during the night and another group of subjects had to stay up all night without sleeping. Also, subjects performed the memory task before sleeping for the night.
Previously, the researchers found that sleeping less than five hours at night was associated with false memory formation. The recently reported study was an extension of this previous study. In the recent study, the subjects that stayed up all night were significantly more likely to indicate that the details in the narratives were the same as in the crime photos, which was incorrect, rather than correctly indicating that the narrative contained information that was different from that in the photos. The performance of the subjects that were allowed to sleep during the night was on an equal level compared with the group that performed the task before sleeping at night.
The study was carried out by psychologists at the University of California at Irvine and at Michigan State University. Steven J. Frenda from the Department of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California at Irvine led the study. The study report was published in the journal Psychological Science. A total of 104 college-aged students participated in the study.
Sleep is known to be necessary for good health. Sleep deprivation has been associated with changes in biochemistry that are harmful to health. It is thought that the body carries out important restoration and repair tasks on a biochemical level during sleep. Animal studies have shown that complete sleep deprivation will result in severely abnormal metabolism, weight gain not associated with extra food intake, skin lesions and other problems, and also will eventually lead to death.
While this study on memory provided additional evidence that sleep deprivation has serious consequences for mental functions, it also has meaning for law enforcement. In many cases, legal professionals need to rely on statements from individuals that observed a crime, people that were victims of a crime and potential criminal suspects. This study that showed sleep deprivation can lead to false memories is also relevant to the field of criminology.
By Margaret Lutze