A new study conducted by the University College London has shown that rats use dreams just like human do – to process their wishes, desires, plans for the future and frustrations.
Researchers have long used rats as test subjects for various cures and illnesses that affect human beings. They have a very similar physiology to that of our own, which makes the results trust worthy and as accurate as they can get before starting actual human trials.
Test conducted on rats are important for advancements in the medical community as the animals are used as a kind of safety net. If there are no serious side effects, then that generally means that human trials shouldn’t cause any significant discomfort to people who choose to participate in a study.
But now experts at the University College London are saying that the human brain and the rat brain share a similarity as well. While conducting some tests on the fuzzy rodents, the researchers learned that rats that were shown some food and put in an environment that prevented them from reaching it, would dream of various ways in which they could get access to the food after falling asleep.
To reach this conclusion, he researchers took some rats and put them on a track shaped like a “T”. One of the letter’s arm had some eatable goods hanging from it, however the scientists used some transparent barriers to keep the animals from accessing the snacks. At the same time, the unsuspecting creatures could see where the food was, as well as the routs that they would normally use to reach it, so they had that knowledge in their heads.
The rats were then taken to a sleeping chamber for an hour. While monitoring their brains as they were asleep, the researchers could tell that the animals were pondering the “T track” and trying to figure out a way of getting to the food.
It’s quite a complex brain process, as Hugo Spiers, lead researcher of the study and neuroscientist with the University College London (UCL), gave a statement informing that the rats create a map of their environment in their hippocampus while exploring it.
And he goes on to add that “During sleep or rest, the hippocampus replays journeys through this map which may help strengthen the memory. It has been speculated that such replay might form the content of dreams”.
He humorously pointed out that the assessment is hard to confirm as the researchers can’t exactly asked the rats whether they’re really dreaming or not. However, the research suggests that they are.
Spiers compares the phenomenon to that of a human browsing a travel brochure for a specific destination during the day, and at night, once they go to sleep, they end up dreaming about that destination. So it turns out Pixar was actually working on a pseudo-documentary when they were making Ratatouille.
What’s more, the lead researcher also mentions that rats have the capacity to build fragments of the future that’s yet to happen. Because of the similarity between the two (2) species, such a realization could even help explain why human patients who have damage to their hippocampus area typically struggle when asked to imagine future events.
The experts from the University College have said that they intend to conduct further tests in an attempt to understand how exactly sleeping helps rats think a problem through.
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