Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists measure dream content for the first time: Dreams activate the brain in a similar way to real actions

Date:
October 28, 2011
Source:
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Summary:
The ability to dream is a fascinating aspect of the human mind. However, how the images and emotions that we experience so intensively when we dream form in our heads remains a mystery. Up to now it has not been possible to measure dream content. Scientists in Germany have now succeeded, for the first time, in analyzing the activity of the brain during dreaming.

Top: Patient in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine. Bottom: Activity in the motor cortex during the movement of the hands while awake (left) and during a dreamed movement (right). Blue areas indicate the activity during a movement of the right hand, which is clearly demonstrated in the left brain hemisphere, while red regions indicate the corresponding left-hand movements in the opposite brain hemisphere.
Credit: © MPI of Psychiatry

The ability to dream is a fascinating aspect of the human mind. However, how the images and emotions that we experience so intensively when we dream form in our heads remains a mystery. Up to now it has not been possible to measure dream content. Max Planck scientists working with colleagues from the Charité hospital in Berlin have now succeeded, for the first time, in analysing the activity of the brain during dreaming.

They were able to do this with the help of lucid dreamers, i.e. people who become aware of their dreaming state and are able to alter the content of their dreams. The scientists measured that the brain activity during the dreamed motion matched the one observed during a real executed movement in a state of wakefulness.

The research is published in the journal Current Biology.

Methods like functional magnetic resonance imaging have enabled scientists to visualise and identify the precise spatial location of brain activity during sleep. However, up to now, researchers have not been able to analyse specific brain activity associated with dream content, as measured brain activity can only be traced back to a specific dream if the precise temporal coincidence of the dream content and measurement is known. Whether a person is dreaming is something that could only be reported by the individual himself.

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, the Charité hospital in Berlin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig availed of the ability of lucid dreamers to dream consciously for their research. Lucid dreamers were asked to become aware of their dream while sleeping in a magnetic resonance scanner and to report this "lucid" state to the researchers by means of eye movements. They were then asked to voluntarily "dream" that they were repeatedly clenching first their right fist and then their left one for ten seconds.

This enabled the scientists to measure the entry into REM sleep -- a phase in which dreams are perceived particularly intensively -- with the help of the subject's electroencephalogram (EEG) and to detect the beginning of a lucid phase. The brain activity measured from this time onwards corresponded with the arranged "dream" involving the fist clenching. A region in the sensorimotor cortex of the brain, which is responsible for the execution of movements, was actually activated during the dream. This is directly comparable with the brain activity that arises when the hand is moved while the person is awake. Even if the lucid dreamer just imagines the hand movement while awake, the sensorimotor cortex reacts in a similar way.

The coincidence of the brain activity measured during dreaming and the conscious action shows that dream content can be measured. "With this combination of sleep EEGs, imaging methods and lucid dreamers, we can measure not only simple movements during sleep but also the activity patterns in the brain during visual dream perceptions," says Martin Dresler, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry.

The researchers were able to confirm the data obtained using MR imaging in another subject using a different technology. With the help of near-infrared spectroscopy, they also observed increased activity in a region of the brain that plays an important role in the planning of movements. "Our dreams are therefore not a 'sleep cinema' in which we merely observe an event passively, but involve activity in the regions of the brain that are relevant to the dream content," explains Michael Czisch, research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Martin Dresler, Stefan P. Koch, Renate Wehrle, Victor I. Spoormaker, Florian Holsboer, Axel Steiger, Philipp G. Sämann, Hellmuth Obrig, Michael Czisch. Dreamed Movement Elicits Activation in the Sensorimotor Cortex. Current Biology, Published online Oct. 27, 2011 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.09.029

Cite This Page:

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Scientists measure dream content for the first time: Dreams activate the brain in a similar way to real actions." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111028113626.htm>.
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. (2011, October 28). Scientists measure dream content for the first time: Dreams activate the brain in a similar way to real actions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111028113626.htm
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Scientists measure dream content for the first time: Dreams activate the brain in a similar way to real actions." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111028113626.htm (accessed July 23, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Idaho Boy Helps Brother With Disabilities Complete Triathlon

Idaho Boy Helps Brother With Disabilities Complete Triathlon

Newsy (July 23, 2014) — An 8-year-old boy helped his younger brother, who has a rare genetic condition that's confined him to a wheelchair, finish a triathlon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Huge Schizophrenia Study Finds Dozens Of New Genetic Causes

Huge Schizophrenia Study Finds Dozens Of New Genetic Causes

Newsy (July 22, 2014) — The 83 new genetic markers could open dozens of new avenues for schizophrenia treatment research. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Do People Believe We Only Use 10 Percent Of Our Brains?

Why Do People Believe We Only Use 10 Percent Of Our Brains?

Newsy (July 22, 2014) — The new sci-fi thriller "Lucy" is making people question whether we really use all our brainpower. But, as scientists have insisted for years, we do. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Do Obese Women Have 'Food Learning Impairment'?

Do Obese Women Have 'Food Learning Impairment'?

Newsy (July 18, 2014) — Yale researchers tested 135 men and women, and it was only obese women who were deemed to have "impaired associative learning." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins