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Is ‘Inception’ Real? Scientists Plant False Visions into the Mind

Jul 05, 2016 02:41 AM EDT
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Scientists have figured out how to plant false memories and experiences into people's brains, Inception-style.

In the last few years, researchers have been studying the possibility of "incepting" in real life, which they believe could eventually help treat depression, autism and other mental disorders.

According to StatNews, researchers have finally come up with a new study that said "inception" could be done without the subject being aware of what is being learned.

The general idea was to make participants lie down in an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine while playing a kind of visual game. During the game, the subjects' brains were scanned and the game provides them feedback.

The process is called neurofeedback, and it uses data from the fMRI machine to observe brain activity.

The most intriguing version of this study was done by Takeo Watanabe of Brown University, together with co-researchers from the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute in Japan.

The study, which was published in Current Biology, was called Associative Decoded fMRI Neurofeedback. The technique was done by using an fMRI machine to teach a skill or association without the subject being aware of what they are learning.

First, Watanabe had scanned the subjects' brains to determine the kind of brain activity to look for. Then, the participants had undergone three days of neurofeedback training, the goal of which was to strengthen the connection between the vertical stripes and the color red, instead of the more accurate color green.

During the training, an image of black and white vertical stripes were shown to the participants, and upon seeing these images, they were asked to "regulate their brain activity" without mention of any color. When their brains lit up in "red" activity - meaning they were scoring high in the experiment - they were given more money.

Subjects managed to make their brains perceive "red" even when they were looking at black and white stripes. But when asked about what they were thinking upon seeing the picture, none of the participants mentioned colors.

Each participant had done the exercise over 500 times and lasted three to five months after the experiment.

Watanabe is currently working towards extending neurofeedback as a technique for autism therapy and to treat depression.

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