Scientists have learned how to discover what you are dreaming about while you sleep. A team of researchers led by Yukiyasu Kamitani of the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, used functional neuroimaging to scan the brains of three people as they slept, simultaneously recording their brain waves using electroencephalography (EEG). The researchers woke the participants whenever they detected the pattern of brain waves associated with sleep onset, asked them what they had just dreamed about, and then asked them to go back to sleep. This was done in three-hour blocks, and repeated between seven and ten times, on different days, for each participant. During each block, participants were woken up ten times per hour. Each volunteer reported having visual dreams six or seven times every hour, giving the researchers a total of around 200 dream reports. Most of the dreams reflected everyday experiences, but some contained unusual content, such as talking to a famous actor. The researchers extracted key words from the participants’ verbal reports, and picked 20 categories — such as 'car', 'male', 'female', and 'computer' — that appeared most frequently in their dream reports. Kamitani and his colleagues then selected photos representing each category, scanned the participants’ brains again while they viewed the images, and compared brain activity patterns with those recorded just before the participants were woken up.
“We built a model to predict whether each category of content was present in the dreams,” says Kamitani. “By analysing the brain activity during the nine seconds before we woke the subjects, we could predict whether a man is in the dream or not, for instance, with an accuracy of 75–80%.”