See Inside August/September 2007

Sleep on It

Give your brain a break, and it will find hidden connections

How does your brain manage to see both the trees and the forest? A new study suggests that getting the big picture requires some downtime and, for an extra boost, a night of sleep.

The ability to recognize hidden relations among our memories, a characteristically human feature, is vital for solving problems in creative ways. To understand how this “relational memory” develops, a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School and McGill University presented students with pairs of abstract images in which one image was considered “greater” (graphic above), then asked them to guess the hierarchy of the images in new combinations.

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