Scientists successfully control the dreams of rats; opening the doors for ‘dream engineering’
Working at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, researchers Matt Wilson, Daniel Bendor, and their team have successfully achieved the feat of reaching inside the brains of rats and manipulating their dreams using an audio cue conditioned into them during the previous day.
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In the experiment, the rats were trained to run through a maze using two distinct audio cues. The rats quickly learned that the tones were helpful; one sound indicated that food could be found by going left, while the other sound indicated that a food reward awaited them on the right. And while the rats were doing this, the neuroscientists were recording their neural activity.
Next, when the rats were tired and sleeping, the researchers once again recorded the neural activity of their brains. Using correlative analysis, Wilson and his team confirmed that the rats were dreaming of their maze navigating exploits from the day before.
Now, during their sleep, the researchers played about once every five to 10 seconds a random sound, including the two sounds associated with the two sides of the maze. Whenever the sound associated with the left side of the maze was played, the dream content switched to memories of running down the left side of the maze and it was just the same when the sound for right side was played. Even though the sounds were played for less than a second, the influence on dream content persisted for five to 10 seconds, effectively demonstrating that external cues could induce biases in the dreaming pattern of rats.
This same phenomenon didn’t show up when the rats were awake and not in the maze.
Published in Nature Neuroscience:
Image source: http://curiousanimals.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/cutestrats.jpg
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