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Monday, March 5, 2007

Watching The Brain See The Future



Scientists can now "read" a person’s intentions from their brain activity. This is made possible by a new combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging and sophisticated computer algorithms. The researchers were able to recognize the subjects intentions with 70% accuracy based alone on their brain activity - even before the participants had seen the numbers and had started to perform the calculation.


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The trick by which the invisible is made visible lies in a new method called "multivariate pattern recognition". A computer is programmed to recognize characteristic activation patterns in the brain that typically occur in association with specific thoughts. Once this computer has been "trained" it can be used to predict the decisions of subjects from their brain activity alone. An important technical innovation also lies in combining information across extended regions of the brain to strongly increase sensitivity.

In the future it will be possible to read even abstract thoughts and intentions out of a person’s brain.

Brain regions from which it was possible to "read out" peoples' intentions. In specific regions fine-grained patterns of brain activity showed slight differences depending on whether a person was preparing to perform an addition or a subtraction. From activity patterns in the green regions it was possible to read out covert intentions before subjects began to perform the calculation. From the regions marked in red it was possible to read out intentions that were already being acted upon.
Ref.: Reading hidden intentions in the human brain. 2007. John-Dylan Haynes, et al. Current Biology, February 20th, 2007 (online: February 8th).