March 16, 2008

Can we see what we want or hate?

Filed under: Decision, Neuroscience — krsrk @ 10:49 am

Recently there have been many articles about Mind reading devices, based on fMRI. Though there are many ethical issues around such a device. But lets us imagine such a device exists, Is it possible to find out what we really want or hate? Maybe..

An excerpt from the release at Princeton University

A team of scientists from Princeton University has devised a new experimental technique that produces some of the best functional images ever taken of the human brainstem, the most primitive area of the brain.

This region of the brain is sometimes referred to as Reptilian Brain, based on evolutionary view of looking at the brain regions. It is involved in many important human brain functions required for survival including decision making.

Some of the difficulties in looking at this region of the brain are its size, movement effects due to heart pulse, existing experimental and analysis methods.

“For a long time, scientists have tried looking at this area of the brain and have been unsuccessful — it’s just too small,” said Kimberlee D’Ardenne, the lead author on the paper.

The article by Kimberlee D’Ardenne, Samuel M. McClure, Leigh E. Nystrom, and Jonathan D. Cohen appeared in February Issue of Science Magazine. They overcome the above difficulties combining a number of techniques including synchronizing the fMRI with heart rate, using novel pulse sequences, novel algorithms for processing the data.

They look at brain activity of thirsty humans when drops of juice/water/money are given and find that the activity in the brain stem encodes positive reward prediction error, error when an unexpected reward is given, and the probability of getting any reward. But they couldn’t find the negative reward prediction error, error when expected reward is not given.

So they can find what you want but not what you hate. But the take home is the ability to look at brain stem activity.

D’Ardenne K, McClure SM, Nystrom LE, Cohen JD (2008) BOLD responses reflecting dopaminergic signals in the human ventral tegmental area. Science 319: 1264-1267 link


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