Researchers devise a way to manipulate a rat's dreams

September 6, 2012 by Bob Yirka, Medical Xpress report
rat

(Medical Xpress)—Cognitive scientists working at MIT have devised a means for not only altering the dreams of rats, but of demonstrating a way of testing what they've achieved, offering evidence that it can be done, and in so doing have offered a glimpse into what may lie ahead for people who wish to manipulate their own dreams. Daniel Bendor and Matthew Wilson, working out of MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have, as they describe in their paper published in Nature Neuroscience, used audio sounds to influence the dreams of rats they were studying.

Dreams, like gravity and reasons for our existence, are not understood at all. Nobody knows why we have them or what we get from them, though there are countless theories. And until now, most would have agreed that dreams are a all their own; we, as the dreamers, are merely passive viewers, watching and responding emotionally to the events as they unfold, but powerless to control the action.

Bendor and Wilson thought maybe it was possible to alter the action by controlling the real world environment that surrounds some test as they slept; to find out, they devised a simple experiment. First they taught a rat running through a maze to respond to two different audio tones. The first meant they'd find a treat if they turned right, the second meant they'd find a treat if they turned left. After the rats had it down, the research duo recorded their brain wave patterns as they ran through the maze and responded to the tones. Later, after the rats had bedded down for the night and were dreaming, their were recorded again, this time to show what they knew the rats would be dreaming about; the maze of course. Comparing the brain waves from the actual maze runs to those that occurred while the rats were sleeping showed this to be true. Then, to alter the rats' dreams, the researchers played the same audio tones that had been used in the maze tests, and found that the of the rats responded in the same way as they had when the rats were awake and in the maze, proving that the audio tones had influenced their dreams in a directly controlled manner.

Due to their findings, the researchers speculate that maybe someday soon there will be a new kind of science, i.e. engineering, where scientists learn all manner of ways to manipulate dreams in people, and then people use those techniques to customize their dreams to conjure up whatever it is they can imagine, and possibly, to eliminate nightmares.

Explore further: Brain rhythms are key to learning

More information: Biasing the content of hippocampal replay during sleep, Nature Neuroscience (2012) doi:10.1038/nn.3203

Abstract
The hippocampus is essential for encoding self-experienced events into memory. During sleep, neural activity in the hippocampus related to a recent experience has been observed to spontaneously reoccur, and this 'replay' has been postulated to be important for memory consolidation. Task-related cues can enhance memory consolidation when presented during a post-training sleep session, and, if memories are consolidated by hippocampal replay, a specific enhancement for this replay should be observed. To test this, we trained rats on an auditory-spatial association task while recording from neuronal ensembles in the hippocampus. We found that, during sleep, a task-related auditory cue biased reactivation events toward replaying the spatial memory associated with that cue. These results indicate that sleep replay can be manipulated by external stimulation and provide further evidence for the role of hippocampal replay in memory consolidation.

Related Stories

Brain rhythms are key to learning

September 27, 2011
Neuroscientists have long known of the existence of brain waves — rhythmic fluctuations of electrical activity believed to reflect the brain’s state. For example, during rest, brain activity slows down to an alpha ...

Brain imaging study: A step toward true 'dream reading'

October 27, 2011
When people dream that they are performing a particular action, a portion of the brain involved in the planning and execution of movement lights up with activity. The finding, made by scanning the brains of lucid dreamers ...

Recommended for you

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

Miles Davis is not Mozart: The brains of jazz and classical pianists work differently

January 16, 2018
Keith Jarret, world-famous jazz pianist, once answered in an interview when asked if he would ever be interested in doing a concert where he would play both jazz and classical music: "No, that's hilarious. [...] It's like ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.