Imaging used to read minds and predict decisions

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Researchers at Berlin's Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience are reading human minds using MRI machines that reveal brain activity during the decision-making process, the Associated Press reports. The research already has advanced from identifying the regions of the brain where certain thoughts occur to revealing subjects’ decisions before they’re followed through.

In one study, 21 participants were told to decide whether to add or subtract two numbers a few seconds before the numbers were flashed on a screen. Meanwhile, a computer captured images of their brain waves to help scientists predict each subject's decision - with one pattern suggesting addition, and another subtraction. They were correct in 71 percent of the cases, the AP reported.

Dr. John-Dylan Haynes and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences began research in July 2005 by trying to identify which part of the mind stores intentions. They found ii the prefrontal cortex region by scanning the brain to look for bursts of activity when subjects were given choices. Then they studied which types of patterns were associated with different intentions.

While still in its early stages, scientists are progressing so rapidly that ethicists fear the technology could one day be abused by authorities, marketers, or employers. Civil libertarians are also concerned that mind-reading technology may lead to pre-emptive security measures in which authorities could take action against individuals before they commit a crime.

However, Haynes intends to use the groundbreaking research to contribute to the development of machines that respond to brain signals and allow the paralyzed to change TV channels, surf the Internet, and operate small robotic devices.