Reversing the focus on obesity

Pictures of people who mock me

I adore this article and set of photos. Hayley has successfully captured the ignorance and arrogance of society that keeps women hating their own bodies. I have many pregnant and postnatal clients upset with their size, yet if we lived 200 years ago, or even if we were Eskimo’s we would be proud of our extra weight. People in countries with seasons need extra weight to keep them warm (I should know, I wish I could put some weight on as I freeze in the winter!!). Thank you so much Hayley for sharing this with the world!

Source: Salon.com By Haley Morris-Cafiero
April 24th 2013

I was traveling with students in Barcelona in the summer of 2011, walking through La Rambla, when I noticed two guys making fun of me. I could see them in the reflection of a mirrored building, making gestures with their hands to suggest how much bigger I was than the thin girl standing next to me, her small waist accentuated by her crop top and cut-off shorts. They painted her figure in the air like an hourglass. Then they painted my shape like the convex curves of a ball. The guys were saying something, too, but there was only one word I could make out: Gorda. Fat woman.

I’ve been hearing comments like this for much all my life. Maybe someone else would have yelled at them, or shrunk inside. But I don’t get upset when this happens.

I pulled out my camera, and set up a shoot.

For about a year, I’d been taking pictures of strangers’ reactions to me in public for a series I called “Wait Watchers.” I was interested in capturing something I already knew firsthand: If the large women in historical art pieces were walking around today, they would be scorned and ridiculed.

So I found a crowded crosswalk farther down La Rambla, used my rangefinder camera to set the exposure and focus of where I would stand, and handed the camera to my assistant. I bought a cup of gelato and began eating it. I’ve learned I get more successful reactions if I am “doing” something.

In my peripheral vision, I saw a teen girl waiting for the signal to cross the street. As I stood there, eating my ice cream, I heard a repetitive “SLAP, SLAP, SLAP” of a hand on skin. I signaled to my assistant to shoot. It was only when I returned home to Memphis and got the film developed that I realized the sound was the girl hitting her belly as she watched me eat. She did this over and over. I have five frames of her with various facial expressions. I called the resulting image “Gelato.”

My struggle with my body started after I graduated high school. I played soccer my whole life, sometimes three teams at one time. I never thought about “exercising.” I just ran around, knocked people over and kicked the ball hard. When I started college, there was no more soccer and my weight ballooned from a size 7 to a size 14 in weeks.

Eventually, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Though I did go through phases of food restriction and over-exercise, I came to realize that I shouldn’t punish myself for something I can’t control. Self-criticism is a waste of time. I look worse with tons of make up and products in my hair. I am happy when I am not stressed — so I don’t stress.

That doesn’t mean the world is comfortable with how I look. Even though I’m a college professor, who works 12-hour days and eats healthy, even though I have none of the diseases constantly reported in the media as linked to obesity, I’m up against quite a few stereotypes as an overweight blond female artist. I’m constantly fighting strangers’ criticisms that I am lazy and slow-witted, or that I am an overly emotional slob.

I suspect that if I confronted these narrow-minded people, my words would have no effect. So, rather than using the attackers’ actions to beat myself up, I just prove them wrong. The camera gave me my voice.

The idea of the “Wait Watchers” series came one day when I was shooting on the bleachers in Times Square. I’d been doing a series of photographs in which I sought out public spaces where I’m most uncomfortable, like swimming pools and restaurants (I always feel like I’m not “allowed” to order fattening food).

Going through the film, I noticed an image with a man standing behind me. There he is, being photographed by a woman who appears to be quite beautiful, standing in the middle of the sensory assault that is Times Square. But at the moment the shutter is released, he is smirking at me. He clearly does not approve. This kind of moment had happened many times. Until that moment, I never thought I could capture it on film.

I embarked on a social experiment: to set up my camera in plain sight and document how the world reacted to me. To create my images, I seek out interesting compositions in public areas. My goal is to capture a wide range of social groups so I travel as much as I can. I’ve photographed in Spain, Peru, Chicago, New York and Memphis. My ideal settings have linear compositions or gendered references in signs in the landscape. I set up my camera in plain sight on a tripod or bench, or an assistant will take hundreds of photographs in several minutes. I then comb the images to see if I captured a reaction.

I do not know what the strangers are thinking when they look at me. But there is a Henri Cartier-Bresson moment when my action aligns with the composition, the shutter and their gaze that has a critical or questioning element. Even though they are in front of a camera, they feel they have anonymity because they are crossing behind me.

And I don’t get hurt when I look at the images. I feel like I am reversing the gaze back on to them to reveal their gaze. I’m fine with who I am and don’t need anyone’s approval to live my life. I only get angry when I hear someone comment about my weight and the image does not reflect the criticism. That’s frustrating: when I didn’t get the shot.

But since the project started getting media attention, I’ve received hundreds of emails from people thanking me. There are so many people in the world who feel they have the right – no, the obligation — to criticize someone for the way they look, and to be that recipient of those insults can feel so lonely. I got an email from a 15-year-old girl in Belgium who said my images made her “feel better and not care about what others think and live my life.” That made me proud. As for what the images mean, viewers may interpret the images as they see fit. I’m just trying to start a conversation.


 

Haley Morris-Cafiero is a photographer who lives in Memphis Tennessee. She is an Assistant Professor and Head of Photography at the Memphis College of Art. She is currently working on securing exhibitions for the “Wait Watchers” series and publishing a book of the photographs. More Haley Morris-Cafiero.

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Doing Too Much For Kids: 7 Signs You’re Overparenting

Source: Circle of Moms. Written by Patricia-Anne Tom

Can you be “too good” of a parent?

Circle of Moms member Katherine W. says she’s worried she has been overparenting or pampering her kids. “I tried to do the very best I could,” she relays, “taking them to parks and interesting places every weekend, reading to them, working in their classrooms and every school event, supervising homework every night, helping with Girl Scouts, driving them to after-school activities, arranging play dates, making family dinners a priority, and on and on.” However, Katherine recently noticed that her child’s friend, whose parent was not as involved, has grown into a more confident and self-sufficient person. “Did all that effort even make any difference?”

Keep reading.

How do you know if you’re turning into an overbearing parent? If, like Katherine, you’re wondering if you should be less involved, here we’ve rounded up Circle of Moms members’ advice on signs that you may be overparenting.

1. You Praise Profusely

One of the tell-tale signs that you’re being overbearing, instead of balanced, is when you notice yourself giving your child a profuse amount of praise. While children need encouragement, parents can go overboard, for instance, when they have an “unconscious, incessant need to praise and reward their kids,” says a Circle of Moms member who calls herself “Chatty.” She explains: “I think the only time extra praise is warranted is when children are very young; babies and young toddlers have to learn what is appropriate and what isn’t, and praising them in an excitable manner when they master a new skill or act in an appropriate or desirable manner helps them to learn. But, if you’re over the top and praise them every single time they do something, especially when it’s repeatedly for the same thing they’ve already mastered and done 1,000 times, it’s doing them a huge disservice.”

As an example, Chatty says when first potty training her daughter, she and her husband gave her lots of “high-fives” and “good jobs.” But once her daughter mastered the toilet, she “opened a dialogue with her about how it made her feel to be able to go to the washroom on her own.”

2. You Offer Too Many Material Rewards

Similar to offering an abundance of praise, some parents spoil their children with too many material things. Stephanie Y. came to this realization when one year her 9-year-old son “clearly expressed his utter disappointment in his Christmas gifts. He explained that he didn’t get what he really wanted and poo-pooed what he did get,” she remembers.

After unsuccessfully trying to impart a lesson about the spirit of Christmas, Stephanie realized she had been giving her children way too much. “I am the mom that would carry my kids’ backpack for them, or buy the toy to bribe them to be good in the store! I needed to change, be more of a parent.” Vowing that her children would never be ungrateful at Christmas again, she reduced the gifts her children were receiving all year round, and also reduced her children’s candy consumption, so that they would learn to appreciate Halloween, too.

Charlotte R. is another mom who believes “kids these days have way too many things. When I was growing up we had one phone for the whole house and we had to limit our time to share with everyone. We never got to just sit on the phone and call our friends all the time, because we had household chores to do and our homework and getting ready for school,” she says.

3. You Have Low Expectations

With the rigors of school and extracurricular activities, sometimes parents are hesitant to give their children too many responsibilities. But an ill-fated result of not expecting a lot from your children is that parents “do too much for their kids,” says Tracy S.

Setting low expectations while assuming there will be big rewards is especially a common occurrence in school. “According to our local teachers, a helicopter parent is one who browbeats teachers into giving their kid good grades, even though they didn’t earn them. That’s what makes kids feel ‘entitled,’” says mom Jane S.

Tracy S. says her 15-year-old son sometimes would want her help spelling things and would whine if she wouldn’t help him. “I would tell him that if he can’t try it himself, then I don’t know how close he is to begin with.” Expectations can be set low even before the school-age years, Tracy S. warns. For instance: “How come even when I take my daughter (she’s 2) to the store and a store associate is nice and gives her a little something (sticker, sucker, candy, etc.) and I tell my daughter to say thank you, the associates proceed to tell me that she doesn’t have to?” she asks. “Too many parents think that kids aren’t capable and don’t expect things from them. I expect a lot from my children. I expect that they learn to be productive and contributing people who can care for themselves when they are 18. The only way to get from here to there is to teach them along the way.”

4. You Dole Out Few Responsibilities

Setting expectations for your children includes holding them accountable for age-appropriate responsibilities, Circle of Moms members add. From a very young age, Ellen B. says, “many kitchen tasks are fair game,” and that kids are capable and often willing to bring their dishes to the sink when done, set the table, take the garbage out, and help cook. “And, yes,” she adds, “teach them to clean up their messes.” Once parents “get over the perception the only you can get things done on time, you will find training them is a time-saver.”

Increasing responsibilities and “doing less for them can give them the best possible chance” at becoming self-sufficient, independent adults, mom Ellen explains. “The more children learn to do tasks and make good decisions on their own, the better odds they have of living a productive life,” she says.

When you educate your children about their responsibilities, just be sure they understand that they’re not being asked to do things because “‘mommy is task master,’ but rather [because] ‘we live together, and share both the work and the pleasure of having our own home,'” Lisa R. notes.

5. You Repeat Yourself Frequently

Once they assign responsibilities, overbearing parents often make the mistake of repeatedly telling children what to do. But parents are not raising robots that should follow every order, mom Angelique A. says. She admits she is sometimes guilty of this with her 14- and 15-year-olds and finds herself constantly telling her own children “to do this and that.” She adds: “I mean when will it register that if you see something that needs to be done, just do it?” Still, Angelique knows she needs to lay off if she wants to raise responsible adults. “I was taught independence at a very young age. When I had to, I knew what to do when my parents were away.”

6. You Help Without Being Asked

Most parents would help their children at the drop of a hat, but several Circle of Moms members advise that parents would be wise to step back and wait to offer help until children ask for it. As a teacher, Pamela W. says she sees today’s parents doing too much for their children when it’s not necessary. “I see parents carrying their children’s backpacks for them, etc., around the school campuses. I also see far more moms and dads who accompany their children into the classroom at the kindergarten level and spend time before the bell rings,” she says.

“It’s hard not to helicopter,” Shawnn L. admits. But as someone who works at a university, she doesn’t support it: “It is extremely frustrating to watch [parents] be overbearing and [make choices] for adult freshman student[s]. It is extremely frustrating to speak to the student and have the parent answer. It is even more frustrating to watch a student make excellent choices with regards to his/her studies, only to see the parent undermine every choice because they either weren’t involved enough, or didn’t agree.”

Lucy L. summarizes: “Don’t do something for your child that he or she is capable of doing for themselves.”

On the other hand, when parents let children make more decisions and help themselves, they often find that their children are more resourceful than they initially thought. Ann F., for instance, recently encouraged her children to sell their unwanted toys to make some money. “When I checked on them in the playroom, they had a whole pile of toys they wanted to sell and were in the process of lugging them out front.” Ann’s gut reaction was to stop them, but she had a second thought and asked what they wanted to do with the money they earned. “They said they wanted to donate it to an animal shelter or children’s hospital. The whole situation reminded me that sometimes it really is best just to get out of their way, not be overbearing, and when they are making their own fun without any parental involvement, to just let them be,” she says.

As a Circle of Moms member who calls herself “Vegemite Cheese” says of parenting, “It’s not always what you do for your kids but what you teach your kids to do for themselves.”

7. You Try to Prevent All Mistakes

Of course, when making their own decisions, children will make some mistakes, but Lisa B. says it’s healthy to let mistakes happen in a safe environment. “Both my kids are extremely careful about touching hot objects and getting their little fingers caught in doors/drawers. That’s because I’ve let them try it when they were 6 months old. As soon as they were able to open and close a drawer, I’ve allowed them to close it (not too strongly, though), on their own fingers,” she says. “Rather than preventing them from doing something dangerous, I let them experience the consequences (provided it isn’t health/life-threatening). They know what it’s like to touch a hot drink. When they fall, they know they have to get up and dust themselves off, all on their own.”

As another example, Lisa adds that her son once had a bad habit of putting his fingers and toys in his mouth. “After reminding him several times that it was dirty, I waited to see what would happen. He caught a very painful mouth sore. But now he knows the consequences of putting dirty objects in his mouth,” she says. Of course, she offers the caveat that she always tries to reinforce good behavior.

Ultimately, moms and dads can avoid overparenting by being supportive of their children, but not being overinvolved, Circle of Moms members say. “There is such a thing as being too involved, too loving, too praising, too in-tune with what your kids are doing . . . just as the other extreme suggests an unhealthy relationship with kids (no affection, attention, encouragement, etc.). Balance really is the key component of all facets of humanity,” Jamie B. says.

“Being over-protective is an easy and common mistake that parents make,” admits mom Riana F., noting she sometimes closes her eyes and says, “World please be gentle with this child of mine.” But, she realizes, “The world will never be gentle, it will only ever be real, and if I try to protect my children from its challenges I will also be protecting them from its rewards.”

The myth of the eight-hour sleep

Woman awake
Source: BBC World Service By Stephanie Hegarty
February 22nd, 2012

We often worry about lying awake in the middle of the night – but it could be good for you. A growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural.

In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month.

It took some time for their sleep to regulate but by the fourth week the subjects had settled into a very distinct sleeping pattern. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep.

Though sleep scientists were impressed by the study, among the general public the idea that we must sleep for eight consecutive hours persists.

In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks.

His book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, published four years later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern – in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria.

Much like the experience of Wehr’s subjects, these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.

“It’s not just the number of references – it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,” Ekirch says.

During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.

And these hours weren’t entirely solitary – people often chatted to bed-fellows or had sex.

A doctor’s manual from 16th Century France even advised couples that the best time to conceive was not at the end of a long day’s labour but “after the first sleep”, when “they have more enjoyment” and “do it better”.

Ekirch found that references to the first and second sleep started to disappear during the late 17th Century. This started among the urban upper classes in northern Europe and over the course of the next 200 years filtered down to the rest of Western society.

By the 1920s the idea of a first and second sleep had receded entirely from our social consciousness.

He attributes the initial shift to improvements in street lighting, domestic lighting and a surge in coffee houses – which were sometimes open all night. As the night became a place for legitimate activity and as that activity increased, the length of time people could dedicate to rest dwindled.

In his new book, Evening’s Empire, historian Craig Koslofsky puts forward an account of how this happened.

“Associations with night before the 17th Century were not good,” he says. The night was a place populated by people of disrepute – criminals, prostitutes and drunks.

“Even the wealthy, who could afford candlelight, had better things to spend their money on. There was no prestige or social value associated with staying up all night.”

A woman tending to her husband in the middle of the night by Jan Saenredam, 1595
That changed in the wake of the Reformation and the counter-Reformation. Protestants and Catholics became accustomed to holding secret services at night, during periods of persecution. If earlier the night had belonged to reprobates, now respectable people became accustomed to exploiting the hours of darkness.

This trend migrated to the social sphere too, but only for those who could afford to live by candlelight. With the advent of street lighting, however, socialising at night began to filter down through the classes.

In 1667, Paris became the first city in the world to light its streets, using wax candles in glass lamps. It was followed by Lille in the same year and Amsterdam two years later, where a much more efficient oil-powered lamp was developed.

London didn’t join their ranks until 1684 but by the end of the century, more than 50 of Europe’s major towns and cities were lit at night.

Night became fashionable and spending hours lying in bed was considered a waste of time.

“People were becoming increasingly time-conscious and sensitive to efficiency, certainly before the 19th Century,” says Roger Ekirch. “But the industrial revolution intensified that attitude by leaps and bounds.”

Strong evidence of this shifting attitude is contained in a medical journal from 1829 which urged parents to force their children out of a pattern of first and second sleep.

“If no disease or accident there intervene, they will need no further repose than that obtained in their first sleep, which custom will have caused to terminate by itself just at the usual hour.

“And then, if they turn upon their ear to take a second nap, they will be taught to look upon it as an intemperance not at all redounding to their credit.”

Today, most people seem to have adapted quite well to the eight-hour sleep, but Ekirch believes many sleeping problems may have roots in the human body’s natural preference for segmented sleep as well as the ubiquity of artificial light.

This could be the root of a condition called sleep maintenance insomnia, where people wake during the night and have trouble getting back to sleep, he suggests.

The condition first appears in literature at the end of the 19th Century, at the same time as accounts of segmented sleep disappear.

“For most of evolution we slept a certain way,” says sleep psychologist Gregg Jacobs. “Waking up during the night is part of normal human physiology.”

The idea that we must sleep in a consolidated block could be damaging, he says, if it makes people who wake up at night anxious, as this anxiety can itself prohibit sleeps and is likely to seep into waking life too.

Russell Foster, a professor of circadian [body clock] neuroscience at Oxford, shares this point of view.

“Many people wake up at night and panic,” he says. “I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern.”

But the majority of doctors still fail to acknowledge that a consolidated eight-hour sleep may be unnatural.

“Over 30% of the medical problems that doctors are faced with stem directly or indirectly from sleep. But sleep has been ignored in medical training and there are very few centres where sleep is studied,” he says.

Jacobs suggests that the waking period between sleeps, when people were forced into periods of rest and relaxation, could have played an important part in the human capacity to regulate stress naturally.

In many historic accounts, Ekirch found that people used the time to meditate on their dreams.

“Today we spend less time doing those things,” says Dr Jacobs. “It’s not a coincidence that, in modern life, the number of people who report anxiety, stress, depression, alcoholism and drug abuse has gone up.”

So the next time you wake up in the middle of the night, think of your pre-industrial ancestors and relax. Lying awake could be good for you.

When segmented sleep was the norm

  • “He knew this, even in the horror with which he started from his first sleep, and threw up the window to dispel it by the presence of some object, beyond the room, which had not been, as it were, the witness of his dream.” Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge (1840)
  • “Don Quixote followed nature, and being satisfied with his first sleep, did not solicit more. As for Sancho, he never wanted a second, for the first lasted him from night to morning.” Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote (1615)
  • “And at the wakening of your first sleepe You shall have a hott drinke made, And at the wakening of your next sleepe Your sorrowes will have a slake.” Early English ballad, Old Robin of Portingale
  • The Tiv tribe in Nigeria employ the terms “first sleep” and “second sleep” to refer to specific periods of the night

Stages of sleep

Every 60-100 minutes we go through a cycle of four stages of sleep

  • Stage 1 is a drowsy, relaxed state between being awake and sleeping – breathing slows, muscles relax, heart rate drops
  • Stage 2 is slightly deeper sleep – you may feel awake and this means that, on many nights, you may be asleep and not know it
  • Stage 3 and Stage 4, or Deep Sleep – it is very hard to wake up from Deep Sleep because this is when there is the lowest amount of activity in your body
  • After Deep Sleep, we go back to Stage 2 for a few minutes, and then enter Dream Sleep – also called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep – which, as its name suggests, is when you dream

In a full sleep cycle, a person goes through all the stages of sleep from one to four, then back down through stages three and two, before entering dream sleep.

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Poor sleep can leave romantic partners feeling unappreciated

Source: UC Berkley News Centre, byYasmin Anwar, Media Relations | January 19, 2013

Spouses and other romantic partners often complain about feeling unappreciated, and a new study from UC Berkeley suggests poor sleep may play a hidden role.

A study looking into how sleep habits impact gratitude found that sleep deprivation can leave couples “too tired to say thanks” and can make one or the other partner feel taken for granted.

“Poor sleep may make us more selfish as we prioritize our own needs over our partner’s,” said Amie Gordon, a UC Berkeley psychologist and lead investigator of the study, which she conducted with UC Berkeley psychologist Serena Chen. Gordon presented her findings today (Saturday, Jan. 19) at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in New Orleans.

The results shed new light on the emotional interdependence of sleep partners, offering compelling evidence that a bad night’s sleep leaves people less attuned to their partner’s moods and sensitivities. For many couples, nighttime can turn into a battleground due to loud snoring, sheet-tugging or one partner tapping on a laptop while the other tosses and turns.

“You may have slept like a baby, but if your partner didn’t, you’ll probably both end up grouchy,” Gordon said.

A sixth-year Ph.D. student who focuses on the psychology of close relationships, Gordon noted that many people claim to be too busy to sleep, even priding themselves on how few hours of slumber they can get by on. The observation inspired her, in part, to study how a lack of zzzs might be affecting love lives.

More than 60 couples, with ages ranging from 18 to 56, participated in each of Gordon’s studies. In one experiment, participants kept a diary of their sleep patterns and how a good or bad night’s rest affected their appreciation of their significant other.

In another experiment, they were videotaped engaged in problem-solving tasks. Those who had slept badly the night before showed less appreciation for their partner. Overall, the results showed poor sleepers had a harder time counting their blessings and valuing their partners.

How to remedy that? “Make sure to say to say ‘thanks’ when your partner does something nice,” suggested Gordon. “Let them know you appreciate them.”

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Could scientists peek into your dreams?

Image
Source: News Desk
Monday, April 08, 2013. From Print Edition

Talk about mind reading. Researchers have discovered a potential way to decode your dreams, predicting the content of the visual imagery you’ve experienced on the basis of neural activity recorded during sleep.

Visual experiences you have when dreaming are detectable by the same type of brain activity that occurs when looking at actual images when you’re awake, the small new study suggests. The scientists created decoding computer programs based on brain activity measured while wide-awake study participants looked at certain images. Then, right after being awakened from the early stages of sleep, the researchers asked the subjects to describe the dream they were having before being disturbed.

The researchers used functional MRI to monitor brain activity of the participants and polysomnography to record the physical changes that occur during sleep. They compared evidence of brain activity when participants were awake and looking at real images to the brain activity they saw when participants were dreaming, when they were in light — or early — sleep. Functional MRIs directly measure blood flow in the brain, providing information on brain activity. Published in the journal Science, the study shows it may be possible to use brain activity patterns to understand something about what a person is dreaming about, according to Yukiyasu Kamitani, lead author and head of neuroinformatics at ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories, in Kyoto, Japan.

“Our current approach requires the data of image viewing and sleep within the same [person],” Kamitani said. “But there are methods being developed for aligning brain patterns across people. It may become possible to build a decoder that works for different people with a small amount of data for calibration.” While the research may conjure up images of science fiction movies — such as aliens from another planet finding a way to reveal our most private mental activities — there are practical applications to the research, Kamitani said.

“There is evidence suggesting that the pattern of spontaneous brain activity is relevant to health issues, including psychiatric disorders,” Kamitani explained. “Our method could relate spontaneous brain activity to waking experience, potentially providing clues for better interpretations of [brain activity].” The research involved only three participants, who, over seven or 10 sleep “experiences,” were awakened and asked for a visual report a minimum of 200 times each. The authors gave an example of what a study participant said when awakened: “Yes, well, I saw a person. It was something like a scene. I hid a key in a place between a chair and a bed, and someone took it.” Researchers then compared the participant’s description to the functional MRI activity pattern before awakening. This pattern was put through a machine learning decoder assisted by vocabulary and image databases. The system’s prediction identified a man, a key, a bed and a chair, which compared closely to the participant’s immediate report.

The researchers chose to awaken the subjects in light sleep rather than in deeper “rapid eye movement” (REM) sleep solely to make the research easier to do. Kamitani said that because it takes at least an hour to reach first REM stage, it would be difficult to get sleep and dream data from multiple participants. “REM dreams may contain richer contents, so we are interested in decoding REM dreams in the future,” he said. Although this study doesn’t help identify why people dream, it could potentially be useful in advancing understanding, Kamitani said.

Could we one day know what someone else is thinking while they are awake? Would you be interested in using technology that tells you what your dog or your child is dreaming about?! Or do you think science is going too far?