Human lab rats in virtual reality

VOICE OVER: Putting a mouse in a maze can tell you a lot. Researchers have been using puzzles
like these for over a century to study how rodents’ brains
help them get around their environments. But what if you want to study the human brain? Putting humans in a giant maze is pretty impractical, but neuroscientists have been working
on replicating rodent studies in humans. And they do it
using virtual reality. COREY: There’s a whiteboard right there,
then there’s a door. SHAMINI: Oh no, I got a sad face! I failed. VOICE OVER: So is virtual reality the future
of neuroscientific research? SHAMINI: To find out I’m going to be navigating my
way to some virtual labs, trying out some VR technology, and experiencing the world
of a virtual lab rat. SHAMINI, V/O: The first location on my journey is here at
the Norwegian University of Science and Technology where neuroscientists have been trying to
understand the strategies people use to find their way around. Tobias Navarro Schröder has promised to show me one of their virtual mazes. TOBIAS: Tobias, nice to meet you.
SHAMINI: Tobias, great. TOBIAS: Here we research spatial navigation
and memory and we use this omnidirectional treadmill with a head-mounted display. Wanna give it a go? SHAMINI: Yeah sure. TOBIAS: So what you’re gonna do is called an
object-location memory task. There will be objects on the ground so try to remember where they are. SHAMINI: Ooh!
TOBIAS: Ok. SHAMINI: OK SHAMINI, V/O: I’ll be honest, it’s not what
I imagined a maze would look like, though I did feel a little like a lab rat. And this is actually the kind of puzzle
rats are given in modern tests. TOBIAS: A lot of the recent work is done in
circular or square environments, basically just a box. TOBIAS: Ok, now you are asked to
put back the oil barrel. SHAMINI: Oh I don’t remember. Um… Oh no, I got a sad face! I failed. So will it tell me… oh I was completely wrong. TOBIAS: You probably were on the exact opposite side so it was not random what you did. SHAMINI: Why am I doing this in VR like a computer game and not just in the real world? TOBIAS: It’s always the same time of day in this world. We can make these objects disappear and appear magically on the spot, so we have high control over the
type of things you are experiencing. And we can have a large number of
people go through this exact experience. SHAMINI: Let me press the top button…
(gasps) I got a… TOBIAS: Much better smiley!
SHAMINI: I got a medium face! TOBIAS: Medium, this is actually pretty close. SHAMINI, V/O: My successes and,
rather more frequent, failures help Tobias see how I’m approaching the task. But if we’re going to see what’s
going on inside my brain, we need a very different piece of kit: An MRI scanner. This time I can’t move at all, and the virtual
maze appears on a small screen. It’s obviously not as realistic an experience, but now Tobias can see which
brain areas are lighting up. Doing this experiment on different people
and comparing the results can reveal differences in
which brain areas they’re using. SHAMINI: So what are then the disadvantages
of the fact that it is VR and not a real experience? TOBIAS: One of the big disadvantages is that
you only have vision. You only see the world. And in the case of the scanner your
body and head are fixed. So that’s very different from everyday life. SHAMINI, V/O: Virtual reality gives you complete
control over an environment, and that’s a big attraction for researchers. But they also want those environments
to be as realistic as possible. The closer to reality the virtual
world is, the closer the brain’s behaviour will be to how it acts in the real world. I found the omnidirectional treadmill
pretty immersive, but it’s impossible to use at
the same time as an MRI scanner. But there is a way around this problem. A way to peer inside brains
while they’re exploring virtual worlds. SHAMINI: Hi
NANTHIA: Come on in, hi. SHAMINI: Hi, Shamini.
NANTHIA: Hi, Nanthia, nice to meet you. SHAMINI: Good to meet you hi, so ok this is…
NANTHIA: This is the room. Virtual reality room. SHAMINI: What are we going to be doing in here today? NANTHIA: So this is Corey. She has graciously volunteered her time to do the study and she’s very special in that she has a system implanted in her brain that can actually record brain activity. It’s actually for epilepsy, for preventing seizures, but we can actually look
at the activity, look at the brain data in a part of the brain called the hippocampus which is very important for memory
and spatial navigation. COREY: I’m having to remember where trigger
point one, two, three and four were and then they have me go to like five red. It’s like
Yahtzee or, or, um… what’s that thing where you… Twister! It’s like Twister! SHAMINI, V/O: Just like in Tobias’s experiment,
Corey finds herself in a very simple type of maze. COREY: There’s like a supply closet right there, then there’s a door. And the cylinder that I’m supposed
to go into is right… here. NANTHIA: So this is the first time we can
record deep brain signals while somebody’s actually moving around. We’ve never been able to do that
in a human being before. So she can learn things, she can interact with
people, she can do all sorts of things, so this is the beginning of many, many studies
to come, to look at what’s happening in the brain at exact moments of naturalistic
behaviours and real life activities. SHAMINI, V/O: There aren’t many participants
like Corey available for studies, and it’s possible that the brains of people with epilepsy
might have differences from an average brain. But there is still an advantage to being
able to measure brain signals during the immersive simulation. NANTHIA: We are seeing that there are properties
of these brain waves that do react differently depending on
what the person is doing. SHAMINI: So it’s really important then that
the participants are actually doing something, they are actually like walking at a particular
speed or whatever, so that you can see what’s happening during that. NANTHIA: Yeah, it’s important that they’re
doing something and that we can actually monitor what they’re doing very precisely, and that’s why we have all this room
and this set up and complicated equipment. SHAMINI: So the VR, you can control it carefully. So, you know, for a scientist all your variables are controlled which is great but is there not a disadvantage in that it’s still sort of a clearly artificial world, is that a problem? NANTHIA: I mean definitely we want it to be
really a replica of the real world and I think the VR field,
the technology itself is still evolving. But you know, yes, it’s not quite the real world, right, it’s still a virtual rendition
of the real world. SHAMINI, V/O: But is Virtual Reality realistic enough for our brains to act like they do in the real world? To find the answer, researchers need to
compare real and virtual worlds but there hasn’t been much research on this yet
– at least not in humans. Another lab, round the corner from Nanthia’s,
has been asking this question though they use more conventional lab rats… MAYANK: So come on in here. So this is the set up and we are going to go in there
and look at what’s going on. So that’s Athena, that’s her rat.
SHAMINI: Hi. MAYANK: So we are going to put the rat
in this virtual reality where he has to figure out
where he is, using only vision. SHAMINI: So it looks like this rat is on a
giant beach ball. MAYANK: He’s on a giant floating ball, that
every step he takes the world changes accordingly. So it’s like a bigger than iMAX. He’s totally surrounded by that in every direction
all the way up to his feet so he sees his own shadow. And you’re going to do that and you’ll see
how compelling it looks for yourself. SHAMINI: Oh right, ok great, I’ll give it a try. MAYANK: So we’re going to pretend that your
hand is the rat, right. SHAMINI: So I’m walking and I can see, look,
ok I’m getting closer to this wall. MAYANK: Everything is coming, yeah, things
are coming towards you, and you’ve still not got any reward. SHAMINI: And when you’ve got a rat
and you’re doing the experiment you’re actually recording
their brain signals live? MAYANK: Brain signals. That’s exactly right. You’ll have to hurry up because if you don’t
find it quickly enough it’ll be time out. SHAMINI: Oh. Oh no. Oh man. MAYANK: ‘Cause you know rat finds its reward
in about 3 seconds. SHAMINI: Oh! Oh I found it! I found it!
MAYANK: You did it! SHAMINI: I don’t really know where I am
though… MAYANK: Virtual reality allows the brain
to make a map using only vision. Now we are going to see how the brain
makes map in the real world where all the senses are telling you where
you are, not just vision. SHAMINI: Wait a second. This looks familiar. MAYANK: So this is the real world version
of the virtual maze. SHAMINI: So the floor pattern is the
same, the walls are the same. MAYANK: Exactly. The walls have the same patterns. And the rat has to now run around
in this maze and we can measure the activity of the same neurons, in the real and virtual world.
So we can compare now, whether the neurons, the map of the space
the neurons made in the real world looks exactly the same as virtual reality or not. SHAMINI, V/O: During these experiments,
electrodes in the rats brains measure the activity in a brain area
called the hippocampus. Previous work has suggested that the
neurons in the hippocampus create a kind of mental map that represents the spaces the rats are exploring. SHAMINI: So in the experiment that we’ve
just seen you’ve gone to a lot of trouble to make sure that the virtual world and the
real world are identical. So there’s no external sound, there’s no air
moving, and it looks exactly the same. So you would expect then that the
brain recordings that you get from the rats in those two places
should be the same, right? MAYANK: That’s exactly what we expected.
But what we found could not be more different. First thing we noticed is that 60% of the
hippocampus shut down in virtual reality. And when we saw this, the first time that happened
we thought, wait a minute, maybe something went wrong with his brain, maybe the electrodes got damaged. So we put him back in the real world,
nope, the neurons are still there. Then we said alright, what about
the remaining 40% of neurons, are their maps as good as the real world or better? Once again, major surprise, that the maps of these neurons
were completely corrupted. SHAMINI: So even though the mouse looked like
it was doing exactly the same thing and it knows where it’s going, somehow the brain
just wasn’t reacting in the same way. Why would that be? MAYANK: We think that what happens in virtual
reality, is that different senses are not saying the same thing to the rat. When the rat takes one step in virtual world, his feet are telling him yep I’m putting in a lot
of effort, I’m moving. Whereas his guts are telling no,
you’re not going anywhere. His head is telling him, nope,
I don’t feel any wind coming in. SHAMINI: And does this apply to human VR studies
as well, when you have people walking around with electrodes in their head, or even just
on a treadmill? MAYANK: There is merit to simplify the real
world and say, I’m going to forget about these four things in the real world and I’m
going to focus only on vision. If on the other hand our goal is to say,
I want to understand how the hippocampus works in natural conditions, then the only thing to do is the natural condition. So in my opinion we need to do not just the real world,
not just virtual reality, but both. In the same subjects. SHAMINI, V/O: As virtual reality research
continues to grow, the question of accuracy is only
going to get more important. It’s not yet clear whether humans show the
same unusual brain patterns in VR as Mayank’s rats do, or how significant that might be
for different research questions. And we don’t know how immersive a
computer simulation has to be before our brains will react naturally. But the researchers I spoke to
on my journey all agreed that, despite ongoing questions, VR technology isn’t going anywhere. SHAMINI: Oh!
TOBIAS: Look at that SHAMINI: I got a happy smiley.
TOBIAS: That’s actually really difficult to get. SHAMINI: That’s amazing.


  1. FreeHomeBrew said:

    I would be a very poor candidate as I do not feel any immersion in VR games at all. 😂 Plenty of people do however, so it's nice to see it being applied.

    July 24, 2019
  2. FreeHomeBrew said:

    Also when I'm navigating with the sun out, I use the sun(light) to navigate, at least in part. That'd not be something to easily replicate in VR. Could do, but it's not easy.

    July 24, 2019
  3. Cool Kid BMX said:

    "We've never been able to record deep brain signals"
    Elon Musk, " Hold my coffee"

    July 24, 2019
  4. youssef kasri said:

    👌 👍 👍 👍 Amazing

    July 24, 2019

    Is shamini an English name?

    July 24, 2019

    Pajeet world

    July 24, 2019
  7. TheHomeless87 said:

    Interesting! I would guess that another problem would be that humans are self-conscious that they are in a virtual reality while mice might not be able to make this distinction.

    July 24, 2019
  8. roidroid said:

    1:09 his voice sounds so much like VR researcher Oliver Kreylos from UCDavis. This guy

    July 24, 2019
  9. qwaqwa1960 said:

    Is this a joke? It's well known that we (humans, rats, etc.) are all extremely sensitive to subtle cues & differences. And this guy is surprised his rats respond differently to VR vs. reality?!? Wow. No wonder the sciences are in such a mess.

    July 24, 2019
  10. TrueBlue Servant said:


    July 25, 2019
  11. Skarredghost said:

    I've read that parts of the brain (like the hippocampus) behave differently when you are in VR vs when you are in real life, also because you don't have a coherent feedback from all the senses. This video confirms this. I wonder if this can be a problem for the experiments on humans…

    July 28, 2019
  12. Asger Kennedy said:

    6:18 "We want [it] to be a replica of the real world […] the VR field is still evolving". Yes. Therefore please upgrade to either Oculus Quest or Valve Index for better realism and immersion. And ditch the outdated, lowres Samsung Gear. I mean, wow.

    July 31, 2019
  13. Hati Keseorangan said:

    I don't like if some typo from chinise ,I just love if all using in English term… produced with sponser it's should use English language ….

    August 12, 2019
  14. Johnny Aingel said:

    Truth exactly that is EXACTLY how they look at us as LAB RATS

    August 14, 2019
  15. urmatbek sadykov said:

    it's very cool!

    August 19, 2019
  16. Aaron Clarke said:

    Rats of course depend on pheromones and allomones in a way we don't. Perhaps that and the lack of wind go some way to explaining the lower number of neurons firing in VR. Maybe the same sort of thing would happen if we were in a smell-only VR and couldn't use our dominant sense.

    August 22, 2019
  17. Torah Roberts said:

    I thought this was Lab Rats TV show

    August 31, 2019

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