Mind-reading rodents: Scientists show 'telepathic' rats can communicate using brain-to-brain

Scientists also claim wires connecting one rodent to another can allow communication spanning continents via the internet

Scientists have shown that it is possible to transmit instructions from one animal to another by a telepathic-like process of brain-to-brain communication.

They believe it is the start of what they are calling “organic” computing based on networks of interconnected brains.

Pairs of laboratory rats have communicated with each other using microscopic electrodes implanted into their brains. One rat was able to pass on instructions to the other rat in a separate cage using a system of electronic encoding.

Brazilian and American scientists say in their study published today that the telepathic-like breakthrough represents an important advance in establishing new ways of communicating between individuals using brain power alone.

“As far as we can tell, these findings demonstrate for the first time that a direct channel for behavioural information exchange can be established between two animal’s brains without the use of the animal’s regular forms of communication,” they say.

One rat in each pair, the “encoder”, detected the physical signals of where to find a food reward and pass on these instructions to the second “decoder” rat, which was able to use the encoded signals of the first rat to find a similar reward in its own cage without any further help.

The scientists also showed that the direct brain-to-brain communication, carried by fine wires connecting one rat to the other, can be extended over the internet, with rats in Brazil communicating with rats in North Carolina, some 7,500km away.

“These experiments showed that we have established a sophisticated direct communication linkage between brains…so, basically, we are creating what I call an organic computer,” said Professor Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who led the team.

“We cannot even predict what kinds of emergent properties would appear when animals begin interacting as part of a brain-net. In theory, you could imagine that a combination of brains could provide solutions that individual brains cannot achieve by themselves,” Professor Nicolelis said.

Earlier this month, Professor Nicolelis revealed that he had given laboratory rats a “sixth sense” by connecting up their nervous systems to a sensor that can detect infrared light, which is normally invisible to rats as well as humans.

The latest study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, focussed on using the electrical signals detected in a region of the rat’s brain involved in making decisions when trained to respond to certain stimuli, such as a light in their cage.

Professor Nicolelis inserted micro-electrode implants into the rats’ brains to record the nerve activity associated with making a decision. He then put these signals through a computer encoder which transmitted them via wires to the second rat, which quickly learned how to decode them for its own use.

Each rat was trained to find water in its cage based on the type of signals they were given. However, during the experiment only the encoder rat was exposed to these signals and it had to pass on the right instructions to the second, decoder rat which managed to find the reward in about 70 per cent of cases.

Intriguingly, the scientists found that when the two rats were paired up they quickly established a rapport involving a kind of sensory feedback. If the second rat failed to find the reward, the first rat would modify its brain signals to help out as it too wanted the reward to be found.

“We saw that when the decoder rat committed an error, the encoder basically changed both its brain function and behaviour to make it easier for its partner to get it right,” Professor Nicolelis said.

“The encoder improved the signal-to-noise ratio of its brain activity that represented the decision, so the signal became cleaner and easier to detect. And it made a quicker, cleaner decision to choose the correct lever to press,” he said.

“Invariably, when the encoder made those adaptations, the decoder got the right decision more often, so they both got a better reward,” he added.

Professor Christopher James of the University of Warwick, who has conducted similar research, said that the technique is still very crude and relies on monitoring the nerve activity of just one part of the rat’s brain.

“Leap into the future by, say, 50 years: if you could stimulate many multiple sites, and if we knew what patterns to use and when, then we may well be able to conjure up complex ‘thoughts’,”  Professor James said.

“Abstract thoughts are harder to read and represent; but not impossible technologically.  We can already do that … we just need to understand the brain better,” he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders