Japanese scientists have invented an MRI machine that records dreams, sort of

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Japanese scientists have successfully created an MRI machine that can record and reconstruct dreams for later viewing.


Rating: MixtureRating: Mixture

Rating: Mixture

What is true:

In 2013, Japanese researchers published a study describing a method for “recording dreams” by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record brain activity associated with certain objects when a person is both awake and asleep. The resulting recordings consist of flashes of images of objects that correlate with this brain activity.

What is not true:

The result is neither a direct-to-video recording in the usual sense, nor a narrative representation of a subject’s dream, as some social media posts have suggested. Instead, the clips consist of a quick succession of still images put together using a machine learning program.

Developing a technology to capture and playback dreams like a movie, allowing dreamers to relive their wildest sleep fantasies and nightmares, seems like science fiction. But in 2013, news of an experiment that at least partially confirmed the idea made headlines in media publications, including The edge, NPRAnd BBC.

More than ten years later the news resurfaced, albeit in somewhat exaggerated form, when a meme shared on Facebook on January 15, 2024, claimed the following:


It’s true that Japanese research in 2013 developed a technology to “read” and “record” dreams, so to speak, but said the recordings were not “like a movie,” as some social media posts claimed. Therefore, we have rated this claim as Mixture.

Publishing their work in the peer-reviewed journal ScienceJapanese researchers described a method for recording dreams using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a non-invasive technique developed by the University of California, San Diego, described as used to measure and map brain activity.

This “neural decoding approach” used machine learning models that would match certain brain activity patterns to certain objects, both when a subject was awake and asleep.

Dreams are often, but not always, associated with visual experiences. But does our brain behave the same way when we see something while awake as it does when we sleep? To find out, the researchers recorded the brain activity of three subjects – a relatively small sample size – when the subjects were shown different objects while awake.

In addition to the fMRI, scientists equipped these test subjects with an electroencephalogram (EEG), a test from the Mayo Clinic described as a method of measuring electrical activity in the brain using small metal disks (electrodes) attached to the head. The participants were then asked to fall asleep and were woken as soon as the EEG detected brain activity that indicated they were dreaming.

Upon waking, scientists asked the subjects to describe the content of their dream, and because the fMRI also recorded brain activity during the dream, the scientists tried to match the objects visualized in the dream with the objects the subjects saw while they were awake, based on the corresponding brain. activity patterns. The process was repeated until researchers had obtained 200 visual reports from each subject.

Words describing visual objects were grouped into twenty basic categories, such as male or female, and each verbal report was then represented by a picture.

This data was then entered into a decoder, which the scientists described in an April 5, 2013 Science Podcast interview. as a machine learning model that predicted visual content based on measured brain activity by using an algorithm that could identify small-scale images, frame by frame.

The result? Although the brain activity associated with a particular object varies from person to person, individuals experience the same brain activity associated with the object when they are awake as they do when they are dreaming. The resulting ‘recordings’ consisted of flashes of objects that correlated with this brain activity, but not a movie-like story as some have suggested.

“Together, our findings provide evidence that specific contents of visual experience during sleep are represented by, and can be read from, visual cortical activity patterns that are shared with stimulus representation,” the researchers concluded.

“Our method can work beyond the boundaries of sleep stages and reportable experiences to reveal the dynamics of spontaneous brain activity in conjunction with stimulus representation. We expect this will lead to a better understanding of the functions of dreams and spontaneous neural events.”

Snopes contacted the study authors to see where the study stood as of January 2024. Study author Yukiyasu Kamitan, professor at the Graduate School of Informatics at Kyoto University, wrote that “not much progress has been made specifically in the field of dreams.”

However, the researchers have improved their methods of visual image reconstruction, which now allows the reconstruction of arbitrary images that are not limited to the categories used for the above study.

“The [newly updated] This model can reconstruct images that also reflect subjective visual experiences, such as mental images, attention and illusions. We are now testing sleep data to see if the images generated reflect dream content,” Kamitan wrote.


EEG (electroencephalogram) – Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/eeg/about/pac-20393875. Accessed January 26, 2024.

Horikawa, T., et al. “Neural decoding of visual images during sleep.” Science, full. 340, no. 6132, May 2013, pp. 639–42. DOI.org (crossref)https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1234330.

Log in or sign up to view. https://www.facebook.com/login/. Accessed January 26, 2024.

Robertson, Adi. “Scientists turn dreams into creepy short films using an MRI scan.” The edgeApril 4, 2013, https://www.theverge.com/2013/4/4/4184728/scientists-decode-dreams-with-mri-scan.

“Scientists ‘read dreams’ using brain scans.” BBC newsApril 4, 2013. www.bbc.comhttps://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-22031074.

Stein, Rob. “Researchers use brain scans to reveal hidden dreamscapes.” NPRApril 4, 2013. NPRhttps://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/04/04/176224026/researchers-use-brain-scans-to-reveal-hidden-dreamscape.

What is FMRI? – Center for Functional MRI – UC San Diego. http://fmri.ucsd.edu/Research/whatisfmri.html. Accessed January 26, 2024.

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