Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology managed to control the dreams of rats and change their course. In the future the new achievement will probably allow scientists to “penetrate” into the depths of the human brain while it is forming dreams during sleep.
Using acoustic signals
The scientists managed to influence the animals’ dreams by putting them to listen during their sleep a sound signal associated with events they had experienced the previous day.
According to the study leader neuroscientist Matt Wilson, the research team took advantage of
the way in which the hippocampus of the brain encodes the experiences.
Scientists already knew that when we sleep, the hippocampus works hard, “replaying” some of the experiences of the day to consolidate our memories. However, they did not know if these “serials” are influenced by environmental factors.
The team of Dr. Wilson trained a group of rats to run a maze, using two different acoustic signals. The first of the signals indicated that there was some food on the left side of the maze and the second meant that it was on the right side.
The experts recorded the rodents’ brain activity when they were roaming the maze and when they were sleeping.
Intervention in dreams
The analysis confirmed that rats were dreaming the events they had lived during the day, but when the researchers were playing the acoustic signals, their dreams were changing. Hearing the signals, the animals dreamed the part of the maze associated with each signal.
The experiment showed that the content of dreams can be changed due to external factors reactivating particular memories during sleep.
Dr. Wilson said in an interview with the website io9.com that the new development will soon make it possible for scientists to control memory processing during sleep. As noted, in future we probably will be able to increase the intensity of pleasant memories and block the bad ones.