March 13, 2009

Researchers ‘Read Minds’ Using Brain Scanners

British researchers said on Thursday that it may be possible to "read" a person's mind simply by looking at brain activity, Reuter's reported.

A study was able to show where volunteers were located within a computer-generated virtual reality environment using a modern scanner to measure blood flow.

Eleanor Maguire of the Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging at University College London said just by looking at the brain data they could predict exactly where the game players were.

"In other words, we could 'read' their spatial memories," she added.

While Maguire acknowledged that the risk of "intrusive" mind reading was still a long way off, she said the discovery opens up the possibility of developing machines to read a range of memories.

The discovery, reported in the journal Cell Biology, will likely help research into memory disorders such as Alzheimer's by shedding light on how the hippocampus region of the brain records memories, she said.

The researchers were able to highlight brain regions as they became active using a technology known as functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI.

They were able to measure the activity of certain neurons in the hippocampus, a region known to be critical for navigation and memory, by simply scanning the brains of people as they played a virtual reality computer game.

The study could lead to a new way of analyzing how other thoughts are encoded across neurons, experts said.

However, many believe that using fMRI for forensic examination of a whole host of memories and thoughts could open up a potential ethical can of worms.

But fellow researcher Demis Hassabis said it would be at least 10 years before forensic applications became a possibility. He said, as of now, the technology only works with willing volunteers.

"It's a long way off before that kind of technology is going be possible where you can read someone's thoughts in a single short session, when they don't want to be cooperative," he said.


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University College London

journal Cell Biology