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MIT is testing a “dream incubation” device that processes people’s dream content



Scientists have developed an experimental device and protocol for manipulating the contents of folk dreams during sleep by reminding them of specific allusions that can trigger targeted dream themes and experiences.

While endless dream building beginning So far it remains a matter of science fiction, new research shows that the evolving science of dream control is much more than a fantasy – and that the processing of information during sleep can be designed from the outside.

In a new study, a team led by neuroscientist Adam Haar Horowitz of MIT describes how a wearable electronic device – called a Dormio – enables what scientists call a “targeted incubation of dreams”

; (TDI) during the liquid first stage of sleep in which sleep survives. a borderline state of consciousness called hypnagogy.

“This state of mind is triple, relaxed, flexible and different,” explains Haar Horowitz.

“It’s like turning a notch high into a wandering mind and making it immersive – pushing and pulling new feelings, like your body hovering and falling, your thoughts quickly catching up and out of control.”

010 dream incubation device 3Dormio wrist. (Oscar Rosello)

Hypnagogy shares many of the fluid, dreamy feelings of REM sleep, but with an important difference: during this interstitial state, people can still hear and process sound as they transition from wakefulness to sleep (and vice versa) – and crucial sensory backsliding as it allows. targeted incubation of dreams to work.

As with a similar experimental method called targeted memory reactivation (TMR), which reactivates specific memories evoked by a cue delivered during sleep, TDI can have applications as an educational tool that can improve memory consolidation, but has a specific advantage: a Dormio device worn on wrist like a sensor-sensed glove.

When a person falls asleep on the device, the audio signals are played through an associated application, such as “Don’t forget the tree” (a dream theme used in an experiment with 49 participants).

Dormio sensors pay attention to physiological data indicating that a person has fallen asleep, and then the system wakes them up briefly, prompting them to state what is going through their minds at bedtime.

010 dream incubation device 3Experimental setup. (Oscar Rosello)

After this brief interruption, they then return to sleep mode – but only for a short time – during a series of repeated dreams, awakenings, and calls to record, all centered around a state of controlled hypnosis (at least in theory).

“Targeted incubation of dreams is a protocol for reactivating memories during sleep in a way that leads to the incorporation of target memory or related memories into the content of dreams,” the researchers explain in their work.

“The aim of this study is to assess the ability of Dormio to identify periods of onset of sleep and to successfully manipulate the content of a report on hypnagogy through verbal pre-sleep prompts.”

While the prototype system is still being improved, experimental results suggest that it appears to successfully affect dreams and can largely document their content.

When Dormio asked participants to think about the tree before and during the “borderline” state of sleep, 67 percent of the dream messages collected by the application mentioned references to the tree after waking from the hypnagogic state.

“My dream was about a tree,” one participant said in an oral report after waking up. “I watched the roots with someone and the roots transported me to different places … I heard the roots of the tree pulsate with energy, as if they were leading me to some place.”

In contrast, dream reports from the control group – which were asked to observe only their thoughts – contained almost no reference to trees.

Researchers say that in addition to helping shape people’s dreams, their Dormio system and dream incubation protocol can be used for a variety of learning techniques including consolidating sleep-based memory – or as a tool to help creativity and problem-solving by encouraging people to consciously mentioned. fluid and living thinking about their hypnagogic state.

“Dreaming about a particular topic seems to bring benefits after sleep, for example in creative tasks related to that topic,” says Haar Horowitz.

“This is not surprising in light of historical figures such as Mary Shelley or Salvador Dali, who were creatively inspired by their dreams. The difference is that we purposefully induce these creatively beneficial dreams. “

The findings are set out in Consciousness and cognition.


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