'Mind-Reading' Experiment Highlights How Brain Records Memories
12 March 2009
It may be possible to "read" a person's memories just by looking at brain activity, according to research carried out by Wellcome Trust scientists. In a study published today in the journal Current Biology, they show that our memories are recorded in regular patterns, a finding which challenges current scientific thinking. Demis Hassabis and Professor Eleanor Maguire at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London) have previously studied the role of a small area of the brain known as the hippocampus which is crucial for navigation, memory recall and imagining future events. Now, the researchers have shown how the hippocampus records memory.
When we move around, nerve cells (neurons) known as "place cells", which are located in the hippocampus, activate to tell us where we are. Hassabis, Maguire and colleagues used an fMRI scanner, which measures changes in blood flow within the brain, to examine the activity of these places cells as a volunteer navigated around a virtual reality environment. The data were then analysed by a computer algorithm developed by Demis Hassabis.
"We asked whether we could see any interesting patterns in the neural activity that could tell us what the participants were thinking, or in this case where they were," explains Professor Maguire, a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow. "Surprisingly, just by looking at the brain data we could predict exactly where they were in the virtual reality environment. In other words, we could 'read' their spatial memories."
reference >> Current
Biology, 12 March 2009. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.02.033