Scientists move closer to mind reading

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Researchers at the University of Western Ontario say they can tell what action a person is planning, moments before they actually do it.

"This is a considerable step forward in our understanding of how the human brain plans actions," says PhD student Jason Gallivan.

Subjects had their brain activity scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they performed one of three hand movements: grasping the top of an object, grasping the bottom of the object, or simply reaching out and touching the object.

And the team found that by examining the signals from several different brain regions, they could predict, better than chance, which of the actions the volunteer was planning.

"Neuroimaging allows us to look at how action planning unfolds within human brain areas without having to insert electrodes directly into the human brain. This is obviously far less intrusive," explains  professor Jody Culham.

Gallivan says the new findings could also have important clinical implications. "Being able to predict a human's desired movements using brain signals takes us one step closer to using those signals to control prosthetic limbs in movement-impaired patient populations, like those who suffer from spinal cord injuries or locked-in syndrome," he says.

The results are just the latest development in efforts to use fMRI to read peoples' minds. Last summer, UCLA neuroscientists used the same technique to predict whether people would use sunscreen or not.

FMRI has also been used to distinguish between different thoughts, with UCL scientists saying they were able to distinguish which of three short films a volunteer was thinking about.

Makes most of our current privacy concerns look pretty trivial, doesn't it?