Did you ever think you would hear the term ‘implanted memory’ in an academic article rather than while watching a sci-fi movie? Well, this recent paper in Nature Neuroscience describing how scientists were able to create or “implant” an artificial memory into mice might blow your mind.
Scientists did this with optogenetics, which allows researchers to control neurons by shining light on them. Using this technique, they simultaneously activated an area of the brain related to the perception of an odor and areas of the brain associated with either reward or aversion. They were able to make mice respond to an odor they had never smelled before as if they had.
Implantation of false memories in mice had previously been achieved. In that study, scientists were able to alter a previous fear memory in mice by activating the cells that contained the memory. However, what's more exciting is that in the new study the researchers were able to actually “create” an artificial memory from scratch. This is the first time this has successfully been done without any external sensory experience, just by manipulating specific areas of the brain!
More surprisingly, the resulting artificial memory was quite similar to a real memory, as they both depended on the activity of the basolateral amygdala. But before you start questioning whether Inception is now possible, understand that this was done in mice. Memory systems in humans are considerably more complex, meaning that manipulating them might take more than just a little bit of activation.