Reading brain patterns


ScienceDaily has a report ( here ) on research by S. Hanson at Rutgers, R. Poldrack at UCLA and Y. Halchenko at Dartmouth. They have been able to read the type of thought of a person before the person is conscious of the thought.

“(They) have provided direct evidence that a person’s mental state can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The research also suggests that a more comprehensive approach is needed for mapping brain activity and that the widely held belief that localized areas of the brain are responsible for specific mental functions is misleading and incorrect.

Over the last several years, much of neuroimaging has focused on pinpointing areas of the brain that are uniquely responsible for specific mental functions, such as learning, memory, fear and love. But this latest research shows that the brain is more complex than that simple model. In their analysis of global brain activity, the researchers found that different processing tasks have their own distinct pattern of neural connections stretching across the brain, similar to the fingerprints that distinctively identify each of us. Rather than being a static pattern, however, the brain is able to arrange and rearrange the connections based on the mental task being undertaken…

The research showing that specific mental functions do not correspond directly with certain brain areas but rather a unique pattern of neural connections also provides a more accurate direction for mapping the effective connectivity of the brain. Known as the Connectome Project, the goal of researchers involved in that work is to provide a complete map of the neural circuitry of the central nervous system.

“What our research shows is that if you want to understand human cognitive function, you need to look at system-wide behavior across the entire brain,” explains Hanson. “You can’t do it by looking at single cells or areas. You need to look at many areas of the brain to even understand the simplest of functions.”…

The study involved 130 participants, each of whom performed a different mental task, ranging from reading, to memorizing a list, to making complex decisions about whether to take monetary risks, while being scanned using fMRI. The researches were able to identify which of eight tasks participants were involved in with more than 80-percent accuracy by analyzing the participants’ fMRI data against classifications developed from the fMRIs of other individuals. …Unlike most research that has focused on specific areas of the brain, Hanson and his team looked at the pattern of activity across a half million points in the brain.”

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