Ever wished you could alter the content of your dreams? Maybe there’s a particular dream you’d like to replay over and over again, or a recurrent nightmare that you’d like to erase forever. Well, this may one day be a reality because scientists have now managed to manipulate dreams – in rats at least.
To achieve this impressive feat, MIT researchers first trained the rats to respond to audio cues. One audio tone was associated with a food pellet reward on the left end of a track, while another tone was associated with a reward at the right end. Neuron activity in the hippocampus region of the brain was monitored as the rats carried out their tasks.
Once the rats were asleep after a busy day of food chasing, the rodents’ brain activity was monitored for a second time. Just like humans, the sleeping rats' brains were found to replay the day’s events – a process that acts to consolidate the events into memories. But the scientists were able to manipulate the rats’ dreams by playing an audio cue from the previous day’s experiment, with the rats' brain patterns more likely to match those associated with that particular cue.
In other words, the scientists performed a very simple form of dream engineering. “[This] opens up the possibility of more extensive control of memory processing during sleep to enhance selected memories and to block or modify unwanted memories,” say the researchers.
I, for one, welcome our new dream-enhancing overlords.