Interfaculty Research Cooperation - Decoding Sleep

Reality-monitoring in sleep, psychosis, and virtual reality

Avatar wearing VR glasses

What we believe to be real is essential for everyday functioning. At the same time, our experience of reality consists of objects and events that are highly constructed, and not necessarily related to sensory input. What we believe to be real is thus in constant need of validation. Interestingly, what our reality monitoring functions identify as “real” varies remarkably within and between individuals: Children may come to rather different conclusions about what is real when compared to healthy and awake adults, and dreams may appear remarkably real when experienced, but not when remembered. In healthy subjects, regular alterations of reality monitoring occur during sleep onset, sleep deprivation and dreaming. In a clinical context, inadequate reality monitoring can be an interesting explanation for psychopathological conditions such as hallucinations and delusions during schizophrenia. Yet another important field is the rapidly growing virtual reality (VR) technology that provides compelling visual scenarios in which we interact with, feel immersed in and respond to as if it were real. Reality-monitoring can even be considered on an institutional level; citizens and courts have to adjudicate whether “facts” are real or fictitious, and erroneous beliefs sometimes result in dramatic fallacies. We will thus study the neural correlates of varying reality-monitoring in a wide range of conditions, such as sleep, psychotic states, and while immersed in a VR environment.