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Science can See Your Dreams

Apr 05, 2013 09:53 AM EDT

(Photo : REUTERS/Sage Center for the Study of the Mind, University of California, Santa Barbara/Handout )

Researchers from Japan have found a way to see what people are dreaming about. In a study, they were able to categorize what people saw in their dreams with 60 percent accuracy, according to media reports.

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

The study was conducted in Japan by Dr. Yuki Kamitani, from the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Kyoto, Japan, and team. The experiment included three participants who were asked to sleep inside an fMRI machine.

The researchers monitored participants' brain activity and woke them up just before they entered the REM phase of sleep. This helped the researchers focus on dreams that were seen early in the sleep, instead of waiting for the late REM sleep dreams.

The researchers then developed a visual imagery decoder that could find patterns in brain activity. The visual imagery was recorded from men when they were awake and were watching a video that had hundreds of images. The decoder could identify and predict the image from the brain activity readings, reports

"This is probably the first real demonstration of the brain basis of dream content," said Dr. Robert Stickgold, a neuroscientist and dream expert from Harvard Medical School in Boston, who told the journal Science that the latest study on dreams was "stunning in its detail and success''.

The study is published in the journal Science.

The machine is still in its infancy though. Researchers can't see color, action or emotion in the dreams. Nonetheless, experts are seeing huge potential in the machine for helping researchers understand how dreams work.

"There's the classic question of when you dream are you actively generating these movies in your head, or is it that when you wake up you're essentially confabulating it. What this shows you is there's at least some correspondence between what the brain is doing during dreaming and what it's doing when you're awake," Jack Gallant, a neuroscientist, from University of California, Berkeley, told Wired.

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