Scientists in sleep-wake tests decode dreams

October 29, 2012 by Nancy Owano report

What's in a dream? For Yukiyasu Kamitani, the question is important. He has been testing how dreams relate to brain activity and what really is the function of dreaming, He leads a team of researchers at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan. The labs work toward exploring the function of the brain through computational neuroscience.

Kamitani's findings were presented at the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans earlier this month. The researchers suggested that dreaming and visual perception share similar neural representations in the higher-order visual areas of the brain.

Other scientists have found their research exciting. Their suggestion that dreaming involves some of the same higher-level visual brain areas that are involved in visual imagery draws much of the interest.

The team used to scan the brains of three people as they slept. The participants' were recorded with (EEG). The team monitored electrical patterns in the brain waves, so that they could wake them up whenever the signals indicated that they had begun dreaming.

The researchers woke the participants whenever they detected the pattern of brain waves associated with sleep onset, asked them what they had just dreamed about, and then asked them to go back to sleep. The process of awakening participants and asking what they dreamed about before being allowed to go back to sleep was repeated across several days. The Japanese researchers managed to decode the dreams.

While some of the dreams were out of the ordinary, most involved daily experiences with common themes, such as a car and computer. Then pictures were gathered that represented each category.

The participants were asked to view the images and their brains were scanned again. This second set of data with the recordings that were made just before the volunteers awoke told the researchers that there were distinctive patterns in three key which help us process what our eyes see. They found that activity in other brain regions with more specialized roles in visual processing varied depending on the content of the dreams

The researchers analyzed activity in brain areas V1, V2 and V3, which are involved in the earliest stages of visual processing and encode basic features of visual scenes, such as contrast and the orientation of edges. They also looked at regions involved in higher-order visual functions, such as object recognition. They built a computer model to predict whether or not each of the selected themes was present in the participants' dreams. "In this study we were able to decode only basic object category information, but the method could be extended to decode more dynamic and emotional aspects of dreams," Kamitani said. "Our study shows that during dreaming, some show activity patterns similar to those elicited by pictures of related contents."

Using a database of picture-elicited brain activity and a pattern recognition algorithm, he said it is possible to read out, or decode, what a person might be seeing from scans during dreaming.

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

More information: Neuron 60, 915–929 (2008).

Related Stories

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 ...

New study examines brain processes behind facial recognition

April 18, 2011
When you think you see a face in the clouds or in the moon, you may wonder why it never seems to be upside down.

The seat of meta-consciousness in the brain

July 27, 2012
Studies of lucid dreamers visualize which centers of the brain become active when we become aware of ourselves.

Researchers devise a way to manipulate a rat's dreams

September 6, 2012
(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 ...

Recommended for you

Firing of neurons changes the cells that insulate them

August 22, 2017
Through their pattern of firing, neurons influence the behavior of the cells that upon maturation will provide insulation of neuronal axons, according to a new study publishing 22 August in the open access journal PLOS Biology ...

Study suggests serotonin may worsen tinnitus

August 22, 2017
Millions of people suffer from the constant sensation of ringing or buzzing in the ears known as tinnitus, creating constant irritation for some and severe anxiety for others. Research by scientists at OHSU shows why a common ...

Activating brain region creates intense desire to use cocaine

August 22, 2017
Researchers have identified a portion of the brain that intensifies one's desire for certain rewards—in this case, mimicking addiction to cocaine.

Brain region mediates pleasure of eating

August 22, 2017
Providing the body with food is essential for survival. But even when full, we can still take pleasure in eating. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried and the Friedrich Miescher Institute ...

Chronic stress induces fatal organ dysfunctions via a new neural circuit

August 22, 2017
Hokkaido University researchers revealed that fatal gut failure in a multiple sclerosis (MS) mouse model under chronic stress is caused by a newly discovered nerve pathway. The findings could provide a new therapeutic strategy ...

Contact in sports may lead to differences in the brains of young, healthy athletes

August 22, 2017
People who play contact sports show changes to their brain structure and function, with sports that have greater risk of body contact showing greater effects on the brain, a new study has found.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TheKnowItAll
5 / 5 (1) Oct 29, 2012
It would be very interesting to compare these results with results they would get from a group of blind people.
PleonasticAxiom
1 / 5 (1) Nov 05, 2012
There needs to be a study on what the mind's eye has the potential for. We have nothing to reference these observations to.

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.