18th April 2013, 4:10pm
Student chosen for coveted scheme
Amy and her sleep study poster A student who obtained a highly sought after award from the British Psychology Society was invited to attend its national conference.

Amy Holloway, who is in her final year studying Bsc (Hons) Psychology at the University of Lincoln, was awarded a BPS Summer Research Assistantship bursary last year, for her study on the role of sleep in forgetting of emotional words. Amy is the first student from the University ever to obtain the award, which funds just 10 students nationally.

The study involves two groups, one sleeps and one stays awake. Participants are shown a list of words with each word followed by an instruction to either remember or forget it. They are then given a surprise test and asked to recall all of the words.

Some of the words were emotionally positive, some negative and some neutral.  Amys study aimed to discover whether or not it was easier to forget neutral words than emotional words and whether this changed depending on whether or not the participant slept between learning and the test.

Amy said: I found that the words participants had been told to remember were recalled much better than words participants had been asked to forget, and emotional words were recalled better than neutral words. The sleep group successfully forgot more to-be-forgotten neutral words than the wake group, but this was not the case for emotional words.  I also found that the sleep group showed more than twice the false recall of the wake group false recall is where a word that was not part of the actual list is remembered. This false recall was positively associated with stage one light sleep, but negatively associated with REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, suggesting that stage one may help to trigger associations with things we have learned, while REM subsequently helps to remove false memories.

Sleep psychology tends to focus on whether memories can be enhanced and strengthened over sleep. This was the first piece of research examining whether emotional memories could be forgotten. Research like this is important as it suggests that memories can be 'selectively' forgotten over sleep, which could prove useful in the future for therapies for memory disorders.

Amys supervisor Dr Simon Durrant said: "Amy is one of the most talented students we have had in recent years, and she was an obvious candidate for the British Psychological Society's Summer Research Assistantship scheme. Her study made discoveries about how sleep can help us to forget everyday things, but that emotional memories are more resilient.  By monitoring participants' sleep during the study, Amy also discovered that false memories seem to be created early on during the night, and removed again during later dream-intense sleep.  These findings can help us to refine our model of exactly how sleep interacts with memory. The University of Lincoln is rightly proud of Amy's achievement, which highlights the importance and benefit of the Student as Producer."

Amy now hopes to continue studying and complete a PhD at the University of Lincoln.