Mice seem to be able to control their imagination

Lost keys! let me think; I put on that gray coat yesterday and I was the first one to walk to the coat rack…

There’s a good chance you’ll regularly find something this way, just by replaying a scene in your mind. Following such a scenario in your mind is a very useful skill. Not only to find the keys, but to save us from all kinds of difficult situations. We don’t always have to do something to notice whether we are making the right decision, but rather experience it first in our minds.

Can animals do it too? Certainly, researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the United States have shown. But this was very difficult, as they stress In their report In the magazine SciencesThey couldn’t ask the animals.

Virtual reality for mice

how? What they had to build for this was a job in itself; A “translation machine” that turns an animal’s thoughts into actions, a “brain-machine interface.” The mice first had to run on a ball, compare it to the ball in a computer mouse. A virtual environment was projected onto the walls surrounding the mouse. Every now and then a target appears there, and if the mouse clicks on it, it will get some water as a reward. To make the reward attractive, the mice were deliberately kept thirsty.

While the mice searched for the target, activity was measured in their hippocampus. This is a part of the brain that we know is important for memory and imagination. By performing repeated searches on the rat, the machine learned to associate its brain activity with a specific action, and the machine was then able to predict with complete accuracy what movements the rat would make based on signals from the hippocampus.

Sit still and achieve your goal

The systems were then disconnected. The mouse can now move to the goal only in its thoughts. Although the animals were free to move, this had no effect on the world they saw around them on screen. They think so, and they find out soon enough.

This is the virtual world that the mouse saw during the task. Using its imagination, the animal was able to navigate to the target, the long “tail” on the left.Image Chongxi Lai Research Campus/HHMI Janelia

The mice repeatedly managed to find the target with their thoughts. The researchers describe that when they completed more tasks in this way, they exercised less. They accomplished the work by thinking only. Each task took about ten seconds, but the relatively long attention span was not an obstacle for the mice. This means that they are able to survive for a similar period as humans.

Fast growing area

The results mean, first, that mice appear to be able to direct their thoughts in a similar way to humans. Research confirms that the hippocampus plays a central role in this process. Researchers hope that the success of the brain machine will lead to the development of such devices for humans.

One application being worked on is prosthetics. The idea behind this is that if a brain machine can correctly interpret people’s intentions, those intentions can be transformed into actions via a prosthetic, just as a biological body part would. It has now become very successful in mice to apply this translation from intention to action in a virtual world. All of this is still a long way from a prosthetic leg going in the direction you’re thinking in the real world, but it’s a step forward.

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Megan Vasquez

"Creator. Coffee buff. Internet lover. Organizer. Pop culture geek. Tv fan. Proud foodaholic."

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