New gadget lets scientists ‘plant ideas’ in people’s dreams as they sleep

Rob Waugh
·Contributor
·2 mins read
Photo Taken In United States, La Quinta
People were prompted to dream about trees... and they did (Getty)

It sounds like something out of science fiction films such as Inception, but a new gadget has allowed MIT scientists to plant ideas in people’s dreams.

Researchers used an app combined with a sleep tracking device to “plant” ideas in people’s minds as they slept.

The monitor waits for people to enter a suggestible stage of sleep, then the app plays a message telling them to think about trees.

Two-thirds of volunteers who heard the prompt, went on to dream about trees.

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The researchers describe the technique as “targeted dream incubation”, LiveScience reported.

The research relies on the sleep-tracking device (called Dormio) detecting an early sleep stage known as “hypnagogia”.

Hypnagogia (the earliest sleep stage) is similar to the REM stage, but people can still hear audio during hypnagogia while they dream.

Lead researcher Haar Horowitz said, “This state of mind is trippy, loose, flexible, and divergent.

“It’s like turning the notch up high on mind-wandering and making it immersive - being pushed and pulled with new sensations like your body floating and falling, with your thoughts quickly snapping in and out of control.”

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The researchers write, “targeted information is repeatedly presented during the hypnagogic period, enabling direct incorporation of this information into dream content, a process we call targeted dream incubation (TDI).”

The researchers conducted dream experiments by repeatedly waking up sleepers as they napped during the day.

The volunteers recorded audio prompts in the app, such as, “Remember to think of a tree.”

The Dormio monitored the volunteers heart rate and electrical changes in the skin to monitor when they entered “hypnagogia”.

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Lead author Haar Horowitz told Live Science that the app delivers audio at the crucial moment when volunteers entered hypnagogia.

Horowitz says that 67% of the dream reports involved trees.

Horowitz told Live Science, "Simply put, people tell us whether the prompts appear in their dream. Often, they are transformed (the ‘tree' prompt becomes a tree-shaped car) but direct incorporation is easily identified."