Dreaming of a brighter future is not only a motivation tool for humans, but for rats as well, new research suggests. Could it help in NYC rat control?
Eye on the prize
The mind’s eye, as it were. Researchers in the study monitored the brain activity of rats, first as they viewed food in an unattainable location, then as they rested in a separate chamber, and finally as they were allowed access to the food. During their time of rest, activity in specialized brain cells of the hippocampus suggested the rats simulated walking to and from the unattainable food.
The hippocampus, located near the center of the brain in the temporal lobe, was previously recognized as important to memory skills and storing details about locations visited. In this study, however, it was also discovered to have associations with planning for the future.
During sleep or rest, the hippocampus of the rats rehearsed the journey through the location, mapping it in the mind’s eye, constructing fragments of a future yet to happen, and strengthening the memory. This replay may be what forms the content of dreams. Because the rat and human hippocampus are similar, the research explains how individuals with damage to this region of the brain are unable to imagine the future.