Generalizing memories over time: Sleep and reinforcement facilitate transitive inference

Denise M. Werchan, Rebecca L. Gómez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


The use of reinforcement and rewards is known to enhance memory retention. However, the impact of reinforcement on higher-order forms of memory processing, such as integration and generalization, has not been directly manipulated in previous studies. Furthermore, there is evidence that sleep enhances the integration and generalization of memory, but these studies have only used reinforcement learning paradigms and have not examined whether reinforcement impacts or is critical for memory integration and generalization during sleep. Thus, the aims of the current study were to examine: (1) whether reinforcement during learning impacts the integration and generalization of memory; and (2) whether sleep and reinforcement interact to enhance memory integration and generalization. We investigated these questions using a transitive inference (TI) task, which is thought to require the integration and generalization of disparate relational memories in order to make novel inferences. To examine whether reinforcement influences or is required for the formation of inferences, we compared performance using a reinforcement or an observation based TI task. We examined the impact of sleep by comparing performance after a 12-h delay containing either wake or sleep. Our results showed that: (1) explicit reinforcement during learning is required to make transitive inferences and that sleep further enhances this effect; (2) sleep does not make up for the inability to make inferences when reinforcement does not occur during learning. These data expand upon previous findings and suggest intriguing possibilities for the mechanisms involved in sleep-dependent memory transformation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-76
Number of pages7
JournalNeurobiology of Learning and Memory
StatePublished - Feb 2013


  • Dopamine
  • Inference
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Reinforcement
  • Sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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