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Can brain scans read your mind?
Date:7/23/2009

"If you could read my mind, love, what a tale my thoughts could tell" Gordon Lightfoot

Can neuroscience read people's minds? Some researchers, and some new businesses, are banking on a brain imaging technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to reveal hidden thoughts, such as lies, truths or deep desires.

New research by neuroscientists at UCLA and Rutgers University provides evidence that fMRI can be used in certain circumstances to determine what a person is thinking. At the same time, the research suggests that highly accurate "mind reading" using fMRI is still far from reality. The research is scheduled to be published in the October 2009 issue of the journal Psychological Science.

In the study, 130 healthy young adults had their brains scanned in an MRI scanner at UCLA's AhmansonLovelace Brain Mapping Center while they performed one of eight mental tasks, including reading words aloud, saying whether pairs of words rhyme, counting the number of tones they heard, pressing buttons at certain cues and making monetary decisions. The scientists calculated how accurately they could tell from the fMRI brain scans which mental task each participant was engaged in.

"We take 129 of the subjects and apply a statistical tool to learn the differences among people doing these eight tasks, then we take the 130th person and try to tell which of the tasks this person was doing; we do that for every person," said lead study author Russell Poldrack, a professor of psychology who holds UCLA's Wendell Jeffrey and Bernice Wenzel Term Chair in Behavioral Neuroscience.

"It turns out that we can predict quite well which of these eight tasks they are doing," he said. "If we were just guessing, we would get it right about 13 percent of the time. We get it right about 80 percent of the time with our statistical tool. It's not perfect, but it is quite good but not nearly good enough to be admissib
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Contact: Stuart Wolpert
swolpert@support.ucla.edu
310-206-0511
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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