Can Rats Dream of the Future?

Rats Sleeping
You may have more in common with a rat than you think. A study conducted at University College London produced some very interesting findings in regards to rats and sleep. By monitoring the brain activity of rats, the researchers displayed strong evidence that rats simulate future explorations for food while they sleep.

During the study, rats on a track were first allowed to view food in a place that was blocked by a barrier. Afterwards, the rats were placed in a sleep chamber for one hour where their brain activity was monitored. When the hour passed, the rats were allowed to access all areas of the track.

The data the researchers collected while the rats slept showed activity in the parts of the brain that the rats later used as an “internal map” when they were allowed back onto the track.

“What’s surprising here is that we see the hippocampus planning for the future, actually rehearsing totally novel journeys that the animals need to take in order to reach the food,” said Dr.  Freyja Ólafsdótt.

The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is thought to house memory as well as emotion and the automated nervous system. The rats in the study imagined a future yet to be realized where they could access the area that was previously obstructed. The researchers believe that this replaying of what they previously viewed could help with memory.

While you may think you’re quite superior to the lowly rat, the hippocampus of a human and rat are very similar. This study’s findings could provide explanation why people who have injured their hippocampus often struggle to “imagine future events.”

The researchers admit that it may be difficult to completely prove 100% that rats are technically “dreaming” the same way humans do. Nevertheless, this research has provided us with exciting new data that reveals more about the complexity of rodents and perhaps even the way the human brain functions.

Who knew rats could be so interesting? Review these 5 strange but true facts about rats to learn more.

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