Inception… sort of… for mice

In the movie Inception, thoughts are stolen from individuals through their dreams. The tough part that propels the story forward is the need to implant a thought into someone’s mind while they sleep. While the latest technology isn’t that cool, scientists have been able to implant memories into mice while they sleep.

Very little is truly known about sleep other than what we perceive through observation. For example, we don’t know how sleep allows us to learn better, but we know that those who get too little sleep have a more difficult time learning. One theory that the new research is verifying is that during sleep, our minds tend to recap the learning of the day. This allows us to turn learning experiences into longer-lasting memories.

The researchers monitored the brain activity of the mice while they were going through a maze and isolated the cells that fired when they would go in a certain direction. Then, they would find the moments while the mice slept when the same cells were fired. By adding another component, reward, into the mix, they established that a certain direction would bring positive results to the mice. They did this by forcing the cells associated with reward when the mice were thinking about a certain direction.

When the mice awoke and were put in the maze, they went immediately in the direction that was artificially associated with reward. Thus, a memory was implanted.

No, it’s not as sexy as the Christopher Nolan movie, but it’s pretty darn nifty.

It is the first time a conscious memory has been created in animals during sleep. In recent years, researchers have been able to form subconscious associations in sleeping minds – for example, smokers can learn to associate cigarettes with the smells of rotten eggs and fish in their sleep.

Read more on New Scientist.

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