Scientists Can Read Dreams Using Brain Scans

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A team of scientists claim to have developed techniques which allows them to read dreams via brain scans—and it could help us better understand what goes on in the brain while we sleep.

The team of researchers, from the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories, in Kyoto, have been performing MRI scans while people drift into early stages of sleep. Just after participants fall asleep, they are awoken and asked about what they have seen. Each tiny mental image—from bronze statues to ice picks—is recounted and recorded, and the entire process repeated 200 times for each participant.

That gives the scientists a database of images, linked with brain activity, which can be grouped together into similar visual categories. So, cars, trucks and buses might all be linked under the category of vehicles, for instance.


From there, the scientists were able to analyze brain activity while participants slept, and attempt to predict what they were dreaming about. The results, published in Science, show that the researchers could predict what volunteers were seeing—at least at the broad broad category level—with 60 percent accuracy. Not perfect, but pretty impressive. Professor Yukiyasu Kamitani, one of the researchers, explains to the BBC:

"We were able to reveal dream content from brain activity during sleep, which was consistent with the subjects' verbal reports. I had a strong belief that dream decoding should be possible at least for particular aspects of dreaming... I was not very surprised by the results, but excited."


But this is only the start. Crucially, the scientists have only so far considered light sleep—and now the researchers are particularly interested in studying more vivid dreams which occur during deeper sleep. Next stop, Inception. [Science via BBC]