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Yes, it’s possible to plant ‘Inception’-style experiences into people’s brains

false experiences planted in human brains brainimagedarpa1
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Think Chris Nolan’s 2010 blockbuster Inception was total science fiction? Think again.

At least, that’s one conclusion we can draw from newly published research which demonstrated that it is possible to plant simple subliminal messages in people’s minds without their knowledge. In the experiment, subjects lying in an fMRI machine were subconsciously trained to see the color red when they were shown pictures of black and white stripes over a period of several days.

Participants were simply told to “try to somehow regulate your brain activity,” with no further explanation, and then given a score to indicate how well they had apparently done. When subjects thought of the color red — despite being unaware that they were doing so — they received higher scores. Over the course of 500 attempts, they increasingly saw the color red when shown pictures of black and white stripes.

The message that the scientists who conducted the project learned was that it is possible to use neuro-feedback training to strengthen associative memories in people’s brains: memories which can last for months after the training has taken place.

“Subjects developed an association between color and orientation without the subject’s awareness,” Takeo Watanabe, a professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown University, told Digital Trends. “This indicates that humans are capable of creating associative learning in early visual areas. Since we are successful in creating associative learning in such rigid areas, it is predicted that this method can create associative learning almost anywhere in the brain.”

Professor Watanabe says that such discoveries could have therapeutic applications. “This method may be applied to reduce or eliminate association of some specific cue and fear,” he continues. “For example, it [could be used to] reduce or eliminate bad memories developed in a battlefield. Our team has [also] recently found that people with high-functioning autism have some abnormal connectivities between different brain areas. Using our method, it may be possible to change some of the abnormal conductivities [to make them closer] to normal ones.”

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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