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Carnegie Mellon study identifies where thoughts of familiar objects occur inside the human brain
Date:1/2/2008

PITTSBURGH A team of Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists and cognitive neuroscientists, combining methods of machine learning and brain imaging, have found a way to identify where peoples thoughts and perceptions of familiar objects originate in the brain by identifying the patterns of brain activity associated with the objects. An article in the Jan. 2 issue of PLoS One discusses this new method, which was developed over two years under the leadership of neuroscientist Professor Marcel Just and Computer Science Professor Tom M. Mitchell.

A dozen study participants enveloped in an MRI scanner were shown line drawings of 10 different objects five tools and five dwellings one at a time and asked to think about their properties. Just and Mitchells method was able to accurately determine which of the 10 drawings a participant was viewing based on their characteristic whole-brain neural activation patterns. To make the task more challenging for themselves, the researchers excluded information in the brains visual cortex, where raw visual information is available, and focused more on the thinking parts of the brain.

The scientists found that the activation pattern evoked by an object wasnt located in just one place in the brain. For instance, thinking about a hammer activated many locations. How you swing a hammer activated the motor area, while what a hammer is used for, and the shape of a hammer activated other areas.

According to Just and Mitchell, this is the first study to report the ability to identify the thought process associated with a single object. While earlier work showed it is possible to distinguish broad categories of objects such as tools versus buildings, this new research shows that it is possible to distinguish between items with very similar meanings, like two different tools. The machine-learning method involves training a computer algorithm (a set of mathematical rules) to extract the patterns from a participants b
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Contact: Anne Watzman
aw16@andrew.cmu.edu
412-268-3830
Carnegie Mellon University
Source:Eurekalert

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