Artificial introduction of false memories is a long-standing science fiction idea around which the plots of many books and films are built. But it turns out that this concept is no longer completely fantastic, and experiments on the formation of artificial memories in people are in full swing.
The basic idea is as follows: the test subjects are placed in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine, and people, being inside the device, begin to play a game. During it, their brains are scanned, and the game gives them feedback, under the influence, they form new neural connections in the brain. This process is called neurofeedback. With the help of the data obtained in the MRI, the subject is told about what is happening in his brain, and as a result, the person begins to control his brain activity
Based on this technology, Takeo Watanabe from Brown University created something called associative decoded MRI neurofeedback. This technique uses an MRI machine to teach people some skills or to introduce some association into them — but the subject himself does not even suspect that he is receiving some information.
Watanabe’s article on the development of this technique was published in 2016 in the journal Current Biology. In it, Watanabe talks about how the subjects began to see red after using neurofeedback, even when they were shown a picture of black and white stripes.
This is a rather complicated and time-consuming process. First, the subjects’ brains were scanned so that the program could distinguish what kind of brain activity to look for. Then they underwent a three-day and intensive neurofeedback training. After that, the experiment itself began.
The subjects lay in an MRI machine and looked at a point in the middle of the screen. When vertical black stripes appeared on it, people were asked to “regulate their brain activity in any way.” When the vertical stripes disappeared, the subjects were given points depending on how well, according to scientists, they coped. The more points the subjects scored, the more money they received.
The subjects were not told about colors, they were not told that it was necessary to present some kind of picture. They were only told to regulate brain activity. Each person did the exercise 500 times.
The fact is that the subjects scored more points when the scan showed that they imagined the color red, and even in the case when people looked at black and white vertical stripes. Thus, the purpose of neurofeedback was to strengthen the association between vertical stripes and red. As a result of numerous repetitions, the scientists managed to ensure that the subjects saw red in black and white stripes when the experiment was already over. The effect lasted from three to five months.
Moreover, the subjects themselves were convinced that, while regulating brain activity, they were thinking about completely different things that had nothing to do with the color scheme.
Watanabe believes that such a technique can eventually be applied to the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as depression or autism. In the case of depression, people will score high when their brain activity shows a more positive mood. In autism, such therapy can help people deactivate areas associated with the symptoms of the disease.