The most underrated dystopian thriller on HBO Max ignores a simple scientific fact

The most underrated dystopian thriller on HBO Max ignores a simple scientific fact

The most underrated dystopian thriller on HBO Max ignores a simple scientific fact

It’s hard to remember now, but not so long ago, dystopian films starring teenagers dominated the box office.

In the early 2010s, hits like The hunger Games and Divergent catapulted actresses Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley to stardom. maze runner completed this unofficial trilogy of science fiction-inspired teenage franchises, but just how realistic is the science behind this dark thriller?

(Spoilers ahead for The maze Runner.)

In the film, Earth has been devastated by a deadly pandemic called Flare, a disease that appears to affect the brain. But some people, like the boys of The maze Runnerare immune.

Scientists from a group known as WICKED placed the boys in a stressful maze environment to map their brain patterns as they try to escape the maze. Their goal: to find a cure for the disease through this bizarre experiment.

Experts say the film’s massive science experiment isn’t exactly compelling, even if it’s entertaining on the big screen.

“I don’t see how putting children in an ever-changing maze would provide insight into their resistance to disease,” said Charles Vorhees. Reverse. Vorhees is a neuroscientist and co-director of the Animal Behavior Core Lab.

Coil Science is a Reverse series that reveals the real (and fake) science behind your favorite movies and series.

How do real maze experiences work?

The experience in maze runner loosely mirrors real rodent mazes. Getty

In the film, the boys live surrounded by a walled maze that appears to be the size of a small town. The movie’s giant maze is a technological miracle – its shape changes every night, confusing “runners” looking for an escape in the maze. Monsters known as Grievers also lurk in the maze.

“They go through the maze, map it out, memorize it, try to find a way out,” one of the other boys told newcomer Thomas, the film’s protagonist.

Such a sophisticated labyrinth is not entirely plausible, but LabyrinthThe configuration of r bears a slight resemblance to real rodent mazes that test the animal’s memory and cognitive ability to navigate spaces.

“We often use mazes because rodents have very good spatial navigation skills, and the tests provide clear objective measures for learning and memory,” says Lindsay Lueptow, supervisor of UCLA’s Rodent Behavioral Testing Core. . Reverse.

The most famous is Morris’ classic water maze, where mice must locate a hidden platform in a murky pool. (Vorhees ran a similar experiment known as the Cincinnati Water Maze). Another variation is the radial arm maze, which places a food reward in some of the “arms” of the maze to test the rodent’s memory.

“There are basically two types of long-term memory that a rodent or any other mammal, including humans, can use to navigate through a complex environment,” says Vorhees.

The first is allocentric or spatial navigation. Using allocentric memory, humans can efficiently generate a spatial map to escape mazes. The part of the brain that we use to do this is the hippocampus.

trailer for The maze Runner.

“Regardless of whether the maze changes every night or not, you’ll likely use your hippocampus to move around,” says Lueptow.

The second is egocentric or implicit memory, and it includes skills we have learned to do through repetition, such as brushing our teeth or driving a car.

Vorhees says that if the children of The maze Runner could see “steady and unchanging clues” outside or above the walls of the maze, so they could use these fixed landmarks to escape the maze. But the maze walls are so high and even The maze Runner that children cannot rely on any of these landmarks.

“In this case, they would have to rely on egocentric navigation, which relies on self-movement cues, like having a fixed starting point and moving in a given direction at a given speed for a given duration and doing a series of turns that you remember to use the next time,” explains Vorhees.

The problem is that the maze changes every day, but you could theoretically use egocentric memory to escape the experience in a single day before the maze changes its paths.

East maze runneris the experience realistic?

The film’s protagonist, Thomas, admires the walls of the huge maze of The maze Runner. 20th century fox

The basic idea of ​​putting humans in a maze that they must try to memorize and escape before it changes every day isn’t weird and actually resembles some rodent experiments.

“All of the tasks you mention are quite similar in that the rodent is placed in the device and must use spatial cues around the room to navigate to an escape or to find a specific reward,” says Lueptow.

The idea of ​​an ever-changing maze has been replicated in real life experiments. In Morris’ Water Maze, you can change the position of the hidden platform daily to test the roden’t memory, Vorhees explains. Mazes aren’t a bad way to test brain disease either, in theory, because the hippocampus — which is impaired in degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s — relies on spatial navigation.

“Thus, the use of tests based on spatial navigation is useful for modeling these brain diseases or testing new treatments,” adds Lueptow.

But the maze experience falls apart when we look at its specifics.

First: to achieve their goal of understanding why children are unique, you would need both an experimental group of disease-immune children – which we have in the film – and a control group of vulnerable children to disease. . But there is no control group in the film.

“In this hypothetical experiment, you would need to put the ‘special’ kids in the maze and measure their performance, then put the ‘ordinary’ kids in the same maze and compare the results,” says Vorhees.

Second: The idea that children need to be placed in a very stressful environment to map their brain patterns also doesn’t hold much credence. Generally, you want to minimize the effects of stress on memory and learning experiences. Even in Morris’ water maze, rodents – which are strong swimmers – don’t face the life-and-death stakes faced by human children. The maze Runner.

“If you want to understand how a virus affects a person’s cognitive abilities, I wouldn’t necessarily want to introduce the additional variable of stress,” says Lueptow.

Vorhees adds, “I don’t see how such an experiment would lead to insight into how these kids differ from other kids.”

Could we test humans in mazes in real life?

In The maze Runnerresearchers place children in mazes to map their brain function, but scientists say the experiments in the film make no sense. 20th century fox

“Young people should be tested, sacrificed, in harsh environments, where their brain activity could be studied. All in an effort to understand what makes them different,” explains the director of WICKED.

In the film, WICKED is portrayed as a somewhat nefarious group conducting unethical experiments on children to find a cure for the disease that infects humanity. But could you actually put humans through a maze in real life to test their cognitive functions? Maybe, but it’s no use, experts say.

“Theoretically, you could test humans in the same maze-based tests as rodents, but that would be kind of pointless,” Lueptow says.

There are now more sophisticated tools to test human spatial memory and learning, such as using virtual reality in a lab environment. You can use word-repeat games or less physically intensive puzzle solving.

“Basically, because we can talk to each other, testing human cognition is much easier than testing rodent cognition,” adds Lueptow.

Even if you put humans in a maze for a science experiment, it would be nearly impossible to track their brain activity at the level seen in the movie, because you can’t study brain patterns in “free-moving people,” says Vorhees. . Instead, they should visualize a virtual reality maze in a sort of stationary brain scanner.

But rodent mazes are likely to remain – even if human mazes like the ones we see in The maze Runner never shows up.

“Unfortunately, because we can’t give experimental treatments to humans and our abilities to ‘look’ at living human brains are limited, we still need our animal models,” says Lueptow.

maze runner is now streaming on HBO Max.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *