UCL News


Press cutting: Scientists becoming mind-readers

9 February 2007

Scientists have edged closer to mind-reading by using brain scanners to measure changes in blood flow that signal a person's intent to do something.

The work is remarkable because it has never before been possible to deduce from brain activity how a person has decided to act in the future.

The feat is reported today in the journal 'Current Biology' by Prof John-Dylan Haynes from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, working in co-operation with Prof Richard Passingham from University of Oxford, [and] Prof Geraint Rees, Sam Gilbert, and Prof Chris Frith [UCL Institute of Neurology] and Prof Katsayuki Sakai from Tokyo.

The scientists let subjects choose freely and covertly between two tasks, either to add or subtract two numbers. The subjects were then asked to hold in mind their intention for a few seconds until the relevant numbers were presented on a screen.

Using a brain scan method called functional magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers were able to recognise the subjects' intentions with 70 per cent accuracy based on their brain activity alone, even before the participants had seen the numbers and had started to perform the calculation. …

The study also reveals fundamental principles about the way the brain stores intentions. Regions towards the front of the brain store the intention until it is executed, regions further back take over when subjects become active and start doing the calculation.

The understanding could find use in mind-reading methods under development to enable tetraplegics to move prosthetic limbs and operate computers.

Roger Highfield, 'The Daily Telegraph'