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Computers can predict your dreams

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Computer can read dreams

A new study indicates that a computer can predict what you are dreaming about by measuring your brain activity during waking moments. Based on that brain activity, researchers were able to detect specific dream images, such as keys or a bed, while the dreamer was sleeping.

"We know almost nothing about the function of dreaming," said study co-author Masako Tamaki, a neuroscientist at Brown University. "Using this method, we might be able to know more about the function of dreaming."

Results of the study were published April 4 in the journal, Science, and the researchers reported their findings could help scientists understand what goes on in the brain when a person has nightmares.

Although it is still not known precisely why people dream, some believe they are irrelevant byproducts of the sleep cycle. Sigmund Freud, on the other hand, gave dreams deeper meaning, such as wish fulfillment. And others have theorized that the reason people dream is it enables the mind to sort through and put together pieces of the daily puzzles they continue to work on during the day.

Previous research has demonstrated that it may be possible to decode brain activity in order to reveal what people are thinking about.

In 2008, for example, researchers reported they developed a computer model that measures brain activity data from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), compares it to a library of photos, and then spits out the photo the person was most likely looking at when the brain activity measurements were taken. Nine out of 10 times, the technique was accurate at picking the right photo.

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For this new study, the same functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used by researchers to measure the brain activity of three people while they were asleep. The researchers then woke each of the three volunteers up every few minutes so they could describe any dreams they were having. As a result, the team collected around 200 visual images.

Next, Tamaki and her research team tied the dream content that participants described in their waking moments to specific patterns in brain activity they saw from the fMRI scans, and then had a computer model learn those specific patterns or signatures.

After learning those signatures, the computer model then analyzed each person's dreams, accurately detecting the time each person dreamed about specific objects based on their brain activity when they were awake. Those findings showed the same brain regions are activated when people are awake as when they are actually having the associated dream.

"We were amazed," Tamaki said.

Tamaki also said that even though the team just tried to read dream imagery from one person's waking brain activity, they found some common patterns for broad classes of imagery – like scenery versus people.

"There is a similarity amongst the subjects, so from that result, we could pick up some basic dream content and then we can build a model from those base contents, and they may apply to other people," Tamaki said.

SOURCES: Science Journal, April 4, 2013 (Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1234330) Live Science