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A flash of light implants false memories in mice

Researchers alter rodents' recollections by exciting just a few neurons

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1:53pm, July 25, 2013

Just a tiny fraction of the brain’s neurons firing at the wrong time may be able to make a figment of the imagination seem real. Scientists have come to that conclusion after implanting false memories into the brains of mice.

“It’s fairly astounding,” says neurobiologist Mark Mayford of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif, who was not involved in the research. “Stimulating a small amount of cells can put a thought into an animal’s head.”

Neurobiologists have known for years that the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped region deep in the brain, plays a role in learning and memory. And countless studies have shown that when it comes to recalling events, humans tend to make mistakes. (Of the first 250 prisoners exonerated in the United States based on DNA evidence, some three-quarters were originally convicted at least in part because of faulty eyewitness testimony.)

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