Total Recall: MIT Researchers Implant Fake Memories in the Brains of Mice

If you’ve been secretly wondering whether you’re a double-crossing secret agent, you’ll be excited (or disheartened) to know that the technology to fiddle with memories really is under development. Scientists at MIT have successfully programmed a hapless mouse to remember receiving an electric shock from a situation in which it wasn’t actually shocked.

Mouse. Mice are being used to test technology for changing memories.
Scientists are able to change memories in mice. Image credit: Rama (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.0-fr], via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re thinking that the mouse didn’t get shocked as part of the experiment, stop reading now. The researchers implanted optical fibers in the mouse’s brain and then sent it into a room with specific colors and smells to develop a pleasant (or, at least, not painful) memory. The next day, the mouse ended up in a room with different colors and sounds – and electric shocks. The team stimulated the brain during this step in the process to try to give the mouse the memory of the previous day’s room – and it worked. When the mouse returned to the non-shocking room on the third day, it was afraid of it.