October Kitchen - October 2021

A New Yale Study Says ‘Yes’! Have you ever wondered how newborns make sense of the world around them? How are our brains able to detect objects and identify motion (like a finger moving across their field of vision) without having experienced sight previously? Although we love featuring local good news stories in this section of our newsletter, this month, we thought we’d feature a fascinating local study by Yale which suggests that mammals dream — in a sense — before birth! Of course, it’s not exactly “dreaming” as we typically think of it. However, a team led by Michael Crair (a professor of neuroscience, ophthalmology and visual science at Yale) says that mice have waves of activity that emanate from the neonatal retina before their eyes ever open. Basically, the nervous system activity flowed in the same patterns that would appear when they are moving forward in an actual environment. “At eye opening, mammals are capable of pretty sophisticated behavior,” said Crair. “But how do the circuits form that allow us to perceive motion and navigate the world? It turns out we are born capable of many of these behaviors, at least in rudimentary form.” Once the brain “mimics” the experience of the outside world, the activity disappears — then, after birth it is replaced by a more developed network of neural transmissions, thanks to the visual stimuli into the brain. Crair notes, “This early dream-like activity makes evolutionary sense because it allows a mouse to anticipate what it will experience after opening its eyes and be prepared to respond immediately to environmental threats.” Since human babies are able to track moving objects in their environment soon after birth, this study suggests that human sight is also primed before birth. This deepened understanding of our brain development is intriguing scientists worldwide. Although it’s hard to imagine what we might’ve dreamed before we were born, it certainly does strike up a sense of wonder and appreciation for our intelligent, ever-prepared brains. DO MAMMALS DREAM BEFORE BIRTH?

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