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Most of us don’t think very much about what life is like before we are born. However, even before conception, we have a developing brain that does include the ability to visualize the world to come.

Researchers from Yale University cultivated a unique theory after observing the neonatal retinas of a group of mice that hadn’t opened their eyes yet. They noticed that once the mammals were born, the activity in their retinas seemed to cease, which made them think they could experience rapid eye movement (REM) caused by dreaming.

“An eye-opening, mammals are capable of pretty sophisticated behavior,” explained Michael Crair, a head researcher on the study. “But how do the circuits form that allows 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.”

In order to carry out their research, the researchers took another group of mice that had not opened their eyes yet and observed their brain waves.

What they found was that their retinal waves moved in a similar pattern to that which would be observed if they were actually moving around in their physical environment.

“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,” Crair stated.

They additionally observed the cells and circuits responsible for causing the retinal waves and found that blocking the function of starburst amacrine cells, or cells that release neurotransmitters prevented the waves from moving forward.

In adult mice, those exact cells play a role in helping the mice to respond to their environmental cues.

There are some major differences between mice and people, with one being that mice are capable of responding to visual cues directly after birth, while humans can identify objects and detect movement.

“These brain circuits are self-organized at birth and some of the early teachings are already done,”  Crair finishes, “It’s like dreaming about what you are going to see before you even open your eyes.”

If you would like to read the study for yourself, be sure to check out the sources below. It was published in the journal Science and is fascinating.