Not quite, but a new study coming from a collaboration between UCLA and Rutgers university gives a glimmer of hope that mind-reading may be possible one day. The study scanned the brains of 130 healthy volunteers performing eight different tasks. The researchers then set to work statistically analyzing 129 of those brains, and then applying their statistical model to the 130th brain to guess which task he/she was performing at that time. They repeated these steps for each brain. The results? When guessing randomly the researchers were correct 13% of the time, but with their statistical model they were right 80 percent of the time.
Here’s more from the press release:
“Our study suggests that the kinds of things that some people have talked about in terms of mind reading are probably still pretty far off,” Poldrack [Russell Poldrack, professor of psychology who holds UCLA’s Wendell Jeffrey and Bernice Wenzel Term Chair in Behavioral Neuroscience] said. “If we are only 80 percent accurate with eight very different thoughts and we want to figure out what you’re thinking out of millions of possible thoughts, we’re still very far away from achieving that.”
Poldrack’s study is one of the first to show that neuroscientists can make these kinds of predictions on new people, whose brain patterns the researchers have never seen before. In most previous studies, researchers made predictions about a person’s mental state after having already studied that person’s brain to understand its particular patterns.
“Our study indicates that different people’s brains work very similarly,” Poldrack said. “We often tend to focus on how different each person’s brain is, but our study suggests that most healthy people’s brains work in very similar ways; otherwise, this approach wouldn’t work.
“We can tell a lot about what you’re thinking using functional MRI, even though we have never seen your brain before,” he said. “However, it is limited in that there are only eight things that we are letting you think about in this study.”
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Image: Russell Poldrack, UCLA