Artists and storytellers devote much time to showing the wondrous powers of love. And it seems that scientists are also attuned to studying love, and through such studies they’ve made an interesting discovery: love may shield you—at least partially—against pain because of the feelings of safety it provides.
It would be an advertiser’s dream: knowing the exact location in your brain that indicates whether an ad has worked, and whether you intend to buy that cat food or wear that suntan lotion. Now, some researchers claim they’ve found a region which might predict whether viewers will act on what a commercial tells them.
For a study published yesterday in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers asked 20 participants to listen to a series of “persuasive messages.” While the test subjects listened, researchers used an fMRI to record the activity in various regions in their brains. The study was small–but researchers say that, with these 20 participants, they could determine many of these listeners’ intentions by looking at a region associated with self-consciousness, called the medial prefrontal cortex.
The subjects listened to messages covering a range of subjects, but the team, lead by Matthew Lieberman at UCLA, was really interested in a public service message about the importance of using sunscreen. Before the brain scans, researchers surveyed the participants about a variety of their behaviors, including their expected sunscreen use for the next week.
As neuroscientists refine their techniques for imaging the brain, scans like the fMRI keep creeping toward the courtroom and getting closer to joining to polygraph tests as means to sort liars from truth-tellers through physiology. In Brooklyn, lawyer David Levin is now offering the fMRI brain scan of a witness as proof of her honesty. If the court accepts it, it could be the first time such a brain scan was ever admitted as evidence.
For what would be a legal breakthrough, the case is a rather minor one: Levin’s client, Cynette Wilson, claims she was treated poorly at her job at a staffing center after filing a sexual harassment complaint. The lawyer found a coworker of Wilson’s to corroborate her story, but wanted to bolster his credibility. Wired.com reports:
So, Levin had the coworker undergo an fMRI brain scan by the company Cephos, which claims to provide “independent, scientific validation that someone is telling the truth.”
Laboratory studies using fMRI, which measures blood-oxygen levels in the brain, have suggested that when someone lies, the brain sends more blood to the ventrolateral area of the prefrontal cortex. In a very small number of studies, researchers have identified lying in study subjects (.pdf) with accuracy ranging from 76 percent to over 90 percent.
A group of Japanese researchers are claiming that their “mind-reading” machine can read people’s dreams. While it sounds like a novel idea, this is certainly not the first claim from scientists that they can depict what a person sees based on their brain activity—nor the last.
Brain imaging has been around for ages. Typically, when fMRI machines are used to read people’s brain activity, the different states are classified into categories and then used to predict a person’s “perceptual state.” So what these ATR Computational Neuroscience researchers are saying they can do is actually reconstruct what a person is seeing. But can they really?
In the study, published in Neuron, the researchers flashed 400 images in front of subjects for 12 seconds each. An fMRI machine was used to collect brain activity data, which was then analyzed on a computer to determine patterns linked to how the brain reacted when it saw the images.