If you’ve ever dreamed of becoming a better person while you slept, those dreams might be closer to reality than you think. That is, if becoming less sexist or racist is in your quest towards becoming a better person. (Hint: It should be.)
A study done at Northwestern University found that certain auditory cues played for people while they slept could actually be tailored to change certain beliefs that people hold.
To conduct the study, they first had the participants take part in some conditioning exercises to counter common biases around race and gender. This wasn’t overt racism or sexism that they were dealing with, either, just normal biases that most people tend to learn through socialization. For example, showing faces of women with words associated with math and science (ahem), and showing faces of black people with words like “cheerful” and “honor.”
While the participants were being showed the images they were also being prepped with a specific sound, which they would then associate with either gender or race.
Next, researchers asked the participants to take a 90-minute snooze. (No word on how this was enforced… studies are weird.) Once they fell into a deep enough sleep, the researchers started playing those sounds again repeatedly for certain people, and not for others.
What researchers found was that the group who didn’t get any noises returned to their normal base levels of biases, but the group who did showed a bias drop of around 56 percent.
This is an important discovery because it’s long been known that when we sleep, our brains process our short-term memories and convert them into long-term ones. Technically, according to this study, it’s possible to trick our brains into remembering being less racist or sexist. Waking up rested and refreshed and wildly better human beings in the morning? Where’s the nearest pillow?
The only caveat is that if you want to experience sleeping your way to more a tolerant outlook on life, you currently need to be in a lab to do it. And then there’s that whole thing where you start imagining how the government could use this to manipulate people in really freaky ways. Can we sleep our way into forgetting that?