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CU researchers develop new software to advance brain image research
Date:6/27/2011

ties as diverse as reciting numbers, making financial decisions or simply daydreaming. But interpreting the results of brain imaging studies is often more difficult, according to Yarkoni.

"There's often the perception that what we're doing when we scan someone's brain is literally seeing their thoughts and feelings in action, but it's actually much more complicated," Yarkoni said. "The colorful images we see are really just estimates, because each study gives us a somewhat different picture. It's only by combining the results of many different studies that we get a really clear picture of what's going on."

The ability to look at many different mental states simultaneously allows researchers to ask interesting new questions. For instance, researchers can pick out a specific brain region they're interested in and determine which mental states are most likely to produce activation in that region, he said. Or they can calculate how likely a person is to be performing a particular task given their pattern of brain activity.

In their study, the research team was able to distinguish people who were experiencing physical pain during brain scanning from people who were performing a difficult memory task or viewing emotional pictures with nearly 80 percent accuracy. The team expects performance levels to improve as their software develops, and believes their tools will improve researchers' ability to decode mental states from brain activity.

"We don't expect to be able to tell what people are thinking or feeling at a very detailed level," Yarkoni said. "But we think we'll be able to distinguish relatively broad mental states from one another. And we're hopeful that might even eventually extend to mental health disorders, so that these tools will be useful for clinical diagnosis."


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Contact: Tal Yarkoni
tal.yarkoni@colorado.edu
303-492-4299
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert

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