Attention humans: get ready to never pay for another dinner you eat with a mouse ever again.
In a study published Thursday in journal Science (which builds upon one published last year in Nature) scientists at MIT report they have successfully implanted false memories in the brains of lab mice, causing the mice to "remember" receiving electrical shots in rooms where they didn't even receive electrical shocks.
Basically, the experiment worked like this:
- Day 1: The mice are put into a tiny chamber not so different from your standard grad school apartment (triangular roof; black cardboard floor; dimly lit with red light; smelling faintly of vinegar) and allowed to explore while scientists identify and chemically label the brain cells being used.
- Day 2: The mice are placed in a totally different chamber (different shape, floor, smell, lighting, etc.) and administered a series of brief shocks through the foot while scientists activate the brain cells associated with previous day's exploration of the red room.
- Day 3: Some of the mice are put back into the red room, where they immediately freeze in fear (despite having never received a shock there). Other mice are put into a new chamber, where they remain chill as hell. The mice put back in the red room appearto falsely remember (just plain "member"?) receiving a shock there.
Stupid mice. Stupid mice with dumb malleable brains, blithely believing any thought that floats into their heads, without even considering the possibility that human nerds are remixing their thoughts via "optogenetics" (basically: lasers) to create unnatural fears and false memories of experiences. It's just like the mice's rat-mentor said when he dropped them off at the laboratory: "Free will is meaningless if you can't control your thoughts." Except, wait, the mice never had a rat who was their mentor, did they? OHMYGOD, IT HAPPENED AGAIN.
The New York Times reports that the study's lead author, Nobel laureate and ultimate mouse prankster Susumu Tonegawa, said part of the importance of his memory research is “to make people realize even more than before how unreliable human memory is," especially in court cases where convictions often hinge upon an ability to recall details.
However, the greater importance lies in humans' future ability to con mice into paying for dinners ("I got it last time, remember?"), movie tickets ("I used that $50 gift certificate I won by guessing how many jellybeans were in the jar, remember?"), and wedding gifts for ceremonies to which they were not even invited ("You sat at a table with my college friends and took home a centerpiece, remember?").
Score one for the humans and then one more because we decided that who ever scored the next point would get double points, remember? (Current score: 82 -0.)
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