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Japanese researchers have developed an "Inception helmet" that manipulates reality to simulate such experiences, and could be used to study cognitive dysfunction in psychiatric disorders.
Most of us distinguish between real and imagined events using unconscious processes to monitor the accuracy of our experiences.
But these processes can break down in some psychiatric conditions. Patients with schizophrenia, for example, can experience auditory and visual hallucinations that they believe are real, while some brain damaged and delusional patients live in a world of perpetual false memories.
To test the system, Suzuki and his colleagues designed a simple, yet ingenious, experiment.
They recruited a group of participants, and then filmed each one as they entered a room and received instructions from one of the researchers.
In turn, each participant was asked to sit in a chair in the same room, and don the head-mounted display, which then played a sequence of live and recorded scenes, and substituted one for the other without the participants' knowledge.