Someone’s prepared for an interrogation
Can someone peer into your head to see what you’re thinking? Veritas Scientific wants to. But don’t start making a tin foil hat quite yet—the electroencephalogram (EEG) helmet that Veritas is developing won’t actually read your mind. It only detects the brain signals that indicate recognition. The instrument , as large as a motorcycle helmet, blocks out distractions as images flash on the inside of the visor. Meanwhile, metal brushes map the scalp’s electrical activity to detect the subject’s reaction to each one of those images. In particular, a characteristic response called P300 occurs when the brain recognizes an object. This could come in handy for lie detection: If police are interrogating a suspect who claims to know nothing, but he recognizes images of an accomplice, victim, or even crime scene, the helmet would catch his lie. Veritas even suggests that the right slideshow images and questions could help identify an enemy combatant pretending to be an innocent.
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.
Will a new brain scan test put an end to lying in court? A judge in India recently used a brain scan to convict a 24-year-old woman of murdering her fiancé.
In a new and controversial way of gathering incriminating evidence, the defendant was read details of her fiancé’s death while electrodes were hooked up to her head to measure her brain waves. Afterwards, the authorities used processing software to analyze the brain scans, revealing that the woman’s brain lit up when she heard information that only the killer would know.